Sunday, September 14, 2008
the following is from the new orleans times-picayune of this past friday.
Sturdy old homes ideal for renewal
Posted by Jack Davis, Guest Columnist, The Times-Picayune September 12, 2008 3:31PM
The Lower 9th Ward neighborhood of Holy Cross, which three years ago had water in its living rooms, still shows the pain of bringing New Orleans back from Katrina's flooding.
But with strengthened levees that stood up to Gustav's recent test, Holy Cross also shows the hope and success that are redeeming not only this historic neighborhood but others across the city as we enter this fourth year of slow and steady recovery.
Preservationists saw Holy Cross as an important place to concentrate their efforts, to bring back a working-class, mostly African-American community of homeowners. And its century-old, well built and slightly elevated houses were the kind that could be rehabilitated more easily than replaced.
While serving the immediate need of providing housing, preservationists also wanted to prove that historic preservation is a key strategy for any stricken city's response to catastrophe -- especially for a city whose architectural character and neighborhood fabric make it unique in the world.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation and its partners -- especially the Preservation Resource Center and its local chapter of Rebuilding Together -- have brought 125 houses back to life in this compact area.
Today, Holy Cross is approaching the time when the preservationists can step aside and let revitalization take its own course.
The National Trust is prepared to help as long as it takes, says its president, Richard Moe.
That's why it opened a field office here right after the storm, brought in architects and other skilled volunteers, lobbied Congress for restoration grants and tax credits to spur preservation-based economic development -- accounting for $70 million available to help rebuild New Orleans.
The organization, with the state of Louisiana, expanded its Main Street program, which promotes vitality in neighborhood retail districts, to the commercial corridors on Oak Street, Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, St. Claude Avenue and North Rampart Street. In any given week, one or two National Trust for Historic Preservation staff members from Washington are in New Orleans working with neighborhoods, developers and preservation groups.
The National Trust has stepped up advocacy efforts to remind public officials that preservation of our heritage has made New Orleans a world cultural treasure, a standing that drives the tourism economy.
The National Trust put Charity Hospital on its list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places this spring, along with the historic Mid-City neighborhoods that could be razed for the LSU and VA hospitals, because keeping both assets will make the medical district grow stronger. Working with residents, we believe that plans can be achieved which advance the goals of a medical district and retain historic neighborhoods.
The recent report by RMJM Hillier that Big Charity could be rehabilitated into a modern hospital at lower cost than new construction is another reminder that solid old buildings will help us save energy and make the new New Orleans more sustainable.
Preservation saves money and allows a city's scarce resources to be used wisely.
New Orleans' architectural heritage is one of the things that makes New Orleans special. The steady rebirth of Holy Cross testifies to the power of that vision.
But Mid-City, where the wrecking ball looms over hundreds of historic homes, reminds us that preservationists' work is not done, and that is why we're going to stay until the job is finished.
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Jack Davis, who lives in New Orleans and Chicago, is a trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.