18 February 2007

duany on new orleans

New Urbanist architect and planner extraordinaire Andrés Duany offers his thoughts on New Orleans in the pages of the latest Metropolis. His conclusion is remarkably naive, coming from the man whose office is leading reconstruction efforts all along the Gulf coast. Exuding the nostalgia that is so prevalent in New Urbanist thinking, Duany claims a "Carribean" identity for New Orleans, evoking his own Cuban heritage and woefully lamenting the loss of the "leisure" and cultural "ease" that so characterized pre-Katrina New Orleans. It is obvious that the future of a great American city is at stake, and that its unique culture is part of what constitutes that greatness. But I think that the focus on recreating a culture of leisure is not quite the appropriate response to such devastation. If we're going to talk about how its unique climactic and environmental conditions contribute to its identity (be it Carribean, Creole, Cajun, whatever), why don't we talk about the much larger scale infrastructural and hydrological concerns that need to be addressed in order to ensure that such destruction won't happen again? And why not go further? In addition to preserving the culture of the Crescent City, why see this as a tremendous opportunity (which it is) to re-imagine what this "Carribean" city can be?

While Duany's critique of the massive federal funding efforts as ironically too constrictive on individual rebuilding efforts is an interesting premise, it ultimately misses the point. A "culture that arises from leisure" should not be a necessary precondition for the city's physical reconstruction. This is a backwards argument that mistakenly conflates American Dream individualism with some sort of strange idealization of a "Carribean" work ethic. Once again, nostalgia reigns supreme, and the future of New Orleans remains on hold.

link: "Restoring the Real New Orleans" by Andrés Duany, in Metropolis


Anonymous said...

I just wandered over here following your post on Jim Kunstler's most recent essay, Rust and Sun. I'm a little curious as to how someone who lives in the most over-paved and overbuilt city in America can claim to be a progressive, or a reactionary, in his architectural views. Maybe you could explain that a bit better.

For example, I wonder how it is you come to be so skeptical of Kunstler's observations on what you have called "new urbanism," while you live and work in a city that is so urban that it can never be "new" and can't ever be "progressive" and can't be "reactionary" except insofar as it "reacts" to the monetary doings of Wall Street and the advertisement largesse generated on Madison Avenue.

Have you spent significant amounts of time in any place that has room to rethink its drift toward urbanization?

I notice you cite to the Harvard Design group as a favored entity. I guess I'm wondering how Harvard can ever result in any sort of alternative, reactionary thought that isn't already hampered and fettered by old money perspectives, which never are "progressive" in the political sense, even if they seek always to "progress" their incomes and never are "reactionary" except where they fictionalize the all hallowed "free market" in its "reaction" to stimuli.

So maybe you could explain?

progressive reactionary said...


Thanks for your comments.

Before I respond, I want to offer two grossly oversimplified definitions to help the discussion. Progress, to me, on the most basic of levels, means "moving forward." Reaction can be defined in opposition to progress; in other words, it represents "stepping backwards," or otherwise impeding forward movement. Hopefully this can serve as a clarification to this blog's original premise, which I attempted to express so very long ago.

So, in response:

1. If I understand you correctly, you postulate that noone who lives in New York—or any other large American city—can claim allegiance to either progressive or reactionary ideals. If this is the case, then into what political mold are such people—and this is not an insignificant portion of the population we speak of—permitted, in your opinion, to fit?

2. In response to your question if I have "spent significant amounts of time in any place that has room to rethink its drift toward urbanization": Yes. Besides my comfy Brooklyn apartment, in which I often ponder the quandaries of contemporary urbanization, I am a child of the Sierra, and no stranger to the sometimes serene, sometimes violent, sublime nature of the American west. That being said, I am fundamentally committed to civilization—and, by extension, urbanism, in all its scales—as the primary theater of human experience. As such, I equate a rejection of urbanism with a rejection of civilization.

3. With regard to your somewhat random sideswipes at Wall Street and Harvard, I would wager there is much agreement between us on this. But I must admit I don't understand how this relates to the context of the discussion at hand.

4. And finally, with regard to the discussion of New Urbanism, I think my record of commentary on the matter gets right to the point. If you'd like to discuss the planning theory behind New Urbanism, specific case studies of success or failure, or the politics of form in general—please, by all means, do.