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Panel 4: Cultural and Ecological Landscapes under Reconstruction
Saturday, October 24th, 4:15 pm – 7 pm

Carol Bebelle
Carol McMichael Reese

Austin Allen, “Regenerating the Lower Ninth Ward”—This presentation will address the remarkable development of “self-governance” in the Lower Ninth Ward in the years following its destruction—self-governance deployed toward renewal—and the recent dismantling of that hard-won accomplishment by externally generated planning efforts. The current planning climate would seem to have silenced the 3,500 people who have returned to the neighborhood as well as the 11,000 displaced residents who have not. The Lower Ninth Ward has become a neighborhood where the goals of “green” building are more firmly accepted than elsewhere in the United States, largely because of the neighborhood’s four years of self-governance after Katrina. However, outside constituencies have recently projected other, competing goals for the neighborhood’s resurgence that are in conflict with the ideas of residents who have struggled to make recovery happen. For example, the city government’s planning and design strategies for the neighborhood that have been advanced in 2009 emphasize the development of commerce and transportation infrastructure along the east/west (or uptown/downtown) lines that connect to the center of town. Lower Ninth Ward residents are responding with a much more varied orientation informed by their more complex understanding of the relation of streets to commerce, to culture, and, ultimately, to the regenerative sense of place.

Dilip Da Cunha, “The Horizon of the Levee”—In a time when the sea is gaining a presence as a threat there is a need to rethink the visualization of the coast that is the basis of design. This view from above, whereby the coast is seen as a dividing line (or more generously today, a thickened line comprised of ecotones), favors land and privileges its measures in design—space, boundary, surface. What is it to design by measures of the sea—time, horizon, depth? Here section takes precedence over plan, movement over distance, events over objects in space. In the re-making of New Orleans, can this challenge in visualization inform us differently about the place’s relationship to the Mississippi and to the sea?

Derek Hoeferlin, “Architectural Activism through Multiple Scales, Programs, and Venues”—The presentation will concentrate on the body of work produced in New Orleans over the past four years that has led to a potentially new multi-disciplinary model and method for architects, which blurs the boundaries between what is a typical academic—professional dichotomy. These diverse projects demonstrate how a series of specific circumstances have led to a new approach that operates at multiple scales, from micro—a backyard—to macro—the city as a whole; through multiple programs, from chicken coops to water infrastructure strategies; and in multiple venues,from community-engaged recovery planning to international academic and professional collaborations. While each project has a client, together they serve something beyond a specific person, group, or organization. Their ultimate client is the city of New Orleans.

Cindy Katz (and Craig Barton, in absentia), “Endangered Geographies: Memory, Erasure, Infrastructure in New Orleans under Reconstruction”—Cities are built and re-built upon their infrastructure. These systems provide the means through which all manner of resources (power, water, light, fuel, transportation, and waste) are distributed and routed through the city. But infrastructure is not just nuts and bolts—the bones of a city—it is also memory, a city’s heart and mind. Reimagining infrastructure is a key element of New Orleans’ reconstruction. This presentation will examine the idea of place memory and the sedimentations of environmental autobiographies as critical elements of urban infrastructure. Through the analysis of selected charged yet everyday sites, we will investigate the challenges to reimagining the city’s social infrastructure and its relationship to the history and memory of African American and working class New Orleanians.

Andrew Light, “Global Environmental Triage: Saving What We Should, Mourning What We Lose”—On the best scenarios for stabilization of global planetary carbon emissions, we can expect, at the very least, an increase of temperatures of two degrees centigrade over pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. At this point, given current levels of atmospheric carbon, we have committed ourselves to at least one degree of that increase and most likely two. Given the enormous task before us of forging an international agreement to stop there, we are most likely looking at a future of three to five degrees of temperature increase at the very least. This new world will see an increase in droughts, a loss of fresh water supplies, sea level rise, and an increase in the frequency and intensity of hurricanes among other impacts. More disturbing for places like New Orleans, the relationship between atmospheric and ocean chemistry insures that the seas are the memory of global temperature change. Any eventual decrease in emissions, which could decrease global temperature, will impact the oceans last of all. All of these changes will result in the loss of communities, both human and non-human. Species that have evolved around the equator, in an environment of minimal fluctuation in temperature, are already experiencing precipitous losses in reproductive rates and ability to acquire food. In cities like Lima, Peru, the poorest people are already paying over a third of their annual wages for water delivery as the glaciers that feed the city shrink and disappear. With limited resources, we now have extraordinarily difficult decisions to face: in short, what do we save and what do we let go? This presentation will make a few suggestions to help guide us through these difficult decisions that we must confront sooner rather than later. This is not a call to give up on places that are vulnerable to climatic change, such as New Orleans, but rather to recognize their full value as we move forward and adapt to our warmer world.

Elizabeth Mossop, “States of Flux: New Models for Teaching and Design Practice”—The lack of both public leadership and effective administration in the rebuilding of New Orleans has generated a unique situation for design practice through the academy. The conventional separation between teaching and practice has become much more fluid and permeable and allowed the development of a spectrum of new models that fall between conventional studio teaching and traditional landscape practice. Since 2005, the situation in New Orleans has been characterized by a lack of substantive and coordinated efforts for rebuilding and has not incorporated efforts being made by a diverse range of individuals, community groups, neighborhood associations, non-profit organizations, and public agencies from all over the metropolitan area. Into this chaotic picture have come hundreds of design schools from all over the U.S., and also internationally, to engage in the investigation of one of the most interesting urban laboratories of our time. The two key modes of operation have been firstly the use of academic speculation and design research to drive public discourse and influence the political process and secondly the role of design schools in providing design services to unconventional clients. In an environment of very limited resources, schools are experiencing a real demand from community groups, in particular, to provide design services. In some instances this is for specific design and/or documentation services more appropriately provided through practice. In many cases, however, these projects utilize design studios to provide research, explore alternatives, and generate ideas—all of the things that studios are really good at. This closer relationship with the community can give studio teaching a greater sense of agency as the generative role of speculation in some “real” projects can be demonstrated.

Denise Reed, “Wetland Connections: Linking the City and the Surrounding Coast”—Contrary to popular belief, New Orleans is not an island. It is surrounded by a vibrant, yet damaged, ecosystem that continues to provide important services to citizens—from efficient sewerage processing to fishing and recreational opportunities. The levees that make low areas of the city habitable break the natural connection from the areas where people traditionally lived to the natural environment. Plans to restore the coastal ecosystem surrounding New Orleans should be coordinated with the design of natural landscape features to facilitate best use of both settings. This requires thinking not so much about the natural environments that have been lost but about what can be sustained into the future and what opportunities it will provide the city and the surrounding area.

Jane Wolff, “New Orleans is a Landscape Problem”—The snarl of questions about ecology, infrastructure, and politics in New Orleans presents an extraordinary charge for designers: we need to solve the spatial, physical, and technical problems that we are trained to address, and we also need to define, articulate, and argue for ways to connect landscape systems, public consciousness, and the political process. I arrived at this point of view by working on three different projects, each at the margins of official discussions about post-Katrina New Orleans. One concerns the rehabilitation of the city's mid-century Modern legacy; one concerns the unoccupied ground in the Lower Ninth Ward, and one concerns the need for city-wide water management strategies. The projects’ scopes, scales, and audiences vary, but they all demonstrate the same need for tools that present information to the public in ways that are clear, compelling, and available to broad audiences. The future of New Orleans is going to be determined by its citizens, and making the city’s ecological and infrastructural dilemmas legible is the first step toward durability. Extreme but not unique, the situation offers a vivid lesson for all of us in North America: if we don’t come to terms with the realities of the landscapes we inhabit, we won’t be able to stay.