[Carfreeliving] Your parking lots or your lives
jhenders at sbcglobal.net
Sun Feb 5 12:39:31 MST 2006
Greetings, I thought some of you might enjoy this Op Ed in today's Times
Picayune (The New Orleans daily paper). - jh
Your parking lots or your lives
When we are a walkable, denser city, we won't need all those cars anyway
Sunday, February 05, 2006
For three months, we've heard engineers and politicians sing the praises
of the storm-protection system built by tiny, low-lying Holland. As a
New Orleans native and professor of urban geography focused on land use
and transportation debates, I appreciate what I have recently learned
about that country, which operates in some ways quite differently than
we do here.
In Holland, land-use policy directs where growth can occur. Dense,
compact cities are respected, and mass transit, bicycling and walking
are considered practical and dignified ways of getting around.
In Holland, the approach toward human-environment interaction, including
flood control, land use and transportation policy, is holistic.
If New Orleans is to survive the next hurricane, its citizens must
reflect and learn from this disaster in a holistic way. But
unfortunately, the overall debate about how much of the city to rebuild
is degenerating into a debate between reducing the footprint and
population and simply rebuilding everything. It has degenerated into
ecological stewardship vs. social justice. If left unresolved, it
threatens limbo and will leave people in the city even more exposed to
From an ecological standpoint, the rebuilding debate is inextricably
bound with the mistakes of paving over surrounding backswamps with
sprawl and constraining the freshwater sediments of the Mississippi
River. Land-use policy allowed much of the backswamp -- Lakeview,
Gentilly, eastern New Orleans -- to be paved over on behalf of white
families, and later middle class black families, moving away from social
problems. They moved there instead of solving tough problems (schools,
crime, poverty) in the urban core.
Ecologically, this subsiding and vulnerable backswamp sprawl should be
returned to wetlands. The pathway of the Industrial Canal should be used
to send Mississippi River sediments into the northern and eastern flanks
of the city to shore up wetland defenses. The Industrial Canal would act
as a pipeline splaying mud into replenished wetlands, which would
function as storm surge buffers, stormwater runoff basins, habitat for
seafood and timber supply, and a resource for education and recreation.
Obviously this regeneration of wetlands will require relocation of
thousands of New Orleanians, both white and black, taking us back to
social justice and how to balance it with ecological stewardship.
That balance can be achieved by building more densely -- but only
moderately more so -- on the less vulnerable ground along the natural
levee of the Mississippi River and south of the Metairie-Gentilly Ridge.
And this can be done by maximizing development on surface parking lots
scattered throughout this part of the city.
Consider this: In a typical parking lot, the average parking space
consumes 350 square feet, 400 with landscaping. Three parking spaces, or
1,200 square feet, approach the size of a comfortable two-bedroom home.
Today parking and streets consume upwards of 50 percent of the land area
of an American city. This leads to the question -- is New Orleans for
people or cars?
Instead of providing vast acreages of parking around the high and dry
Wal-mart, attractive mid-rise, mixed-use developments should be
constructed with ground-floor retail below three or four stories of housing.
These developments would consist of inclusive housing, built with solid
craftsmanship and providing for a range of incomes and household sizes,
from small efficiencies to three-bedroom family homes.
They would respect the traditional grid and original human scale of the
city, not be characterized by garagescapes or walls of bleak high-rises.
Repeat this throughout the city, from smaller lots, such as the A&P on
Magazine, to the Winn-Dixies, Roberts and Save-a-Centers. Spread the
densification using the template of surface parking while preserving
existing housing stock.
Of course, New Orleanians will need to re-orient their approach toward
transportation. The re-oriented city would be a compact, walkable,
transit-oriented city with bicycling, car-sharing, and taxis as
Passenger rail would connect the city to Baton Rouge, Armstrong Airport,
and the rest of the Southeast.
Rail would also operate as a much-needed tool for evacuation when the
next storm arrives. All of this should be funded through petroleum taxes.
Additionally, all publicly owned on-street parking throughout the city
should be priced at fair market value with revenue going to the city.
A holistic approach for ensuring a viable future for New Orleans
includes rethinking density and transportation. Building more densely on
surface parking lots is one possible balance between ecological
stewardship and social justice.
. . . . . . .
Jason Henderson is an assistant professor of geography and human
environmental studies at San Francisco State University. His e-mail
address is jhenders at sfsu.edu.
"Make wetlands not war"
Native New Orleanian
living in San Francisco
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