While on Facebookistan recently, I did the thing I usually know not to do and got involved in a polemic back and forth about the proposed demolition of the World Trade Center building here in New Orleans. I tried to resist but didn’t.
A good friend to New Orleans and well-know preservation activist is fighting to save it and shared an article from a Uptown lawyer who had already written other things I haven’t liked, (yes I see my part in this), so I chimed in.
Needless to say, my opinion is in the extreme minority. I’ll explain later.
Those for saving it seem to line up in one or two queues: either preservation of this mid-century building, of which little is still left in New Orleans, or “saving” commerce by saving this trade building. Of course, it must be said that our mayor who seems to mostly be hiding behind the curtain these days is not doing himself any favors by talking of dismantling it for his bizarre “green space” slash monument which will double as a “ride” across the river-seriously, that’s what he is suggesting, I kid you not.
I get the preservation angle. Although since I am not a fan of it myself, I just selfishly do not care to save that style of architecture. But sure, I know others do and can probably explain why they feel the need. In my mind, as long as we have the Superdome and the Hilton, we have enough examples of that era although if we had saved the Rivergate I would be for demolishing that Hilton too!
What troubles me about all of this is the limited thinking we employ in New Orleans. Those interested in the built environment seem less or not at all interested in its effect on the natural environment. And those interested in commerce seem opposed to addressing the barriers that exist for real people to get skills to use that arena to lift themselves out of dire circumstances. So “global” trade or a tourist destination: that’s all we can offer?
My (main) issue with that building there on Canal Street is the scale; its size doesn’t fit with our little tropical city’s main street as it is today. It’s more in line with the type of unrealistic trade aspirations that New Orleans and the greater area had in previous eras and therefore it should be changed to more adaptive, realistic uses that fit our future. Fighting to save it for commerce seems to fly in the face of the challenges that many emerging areas of the city have in finding tenants already and it reminds me of the days of Caribbean imperialism (or oil drilling imperialism). Yeccchh..
Maybe we can put a small glass building at street level and ask Tulane (et al) to put its environmental research at street level there with scientists and researchers working on water issues and disaster preparation in full sight of its citizens?
Maybe we add a significant streetcar/ferry/bus/bicycle station that everyone would use?
Maybe we can add small, well-designed open spaces for public gatherings? Encourage those with graffiti chalk walls and small natural podiums?
Maybe add some infrastructure for symphonic-style music events? (But leave jazz and pop to our clubs!)
Maybe add adapted shipping containers for food and other entrepreneurs to use?
Maybe none of these. Maybe all of these. But what i hope is for a lessening of thinking that runs to maintaining the status quo of yesteryear (massive buildings devoted to unsustainable commerce hidden behind security checkpoints) or more Disney-like experiences for our visitors (who I think want more authenticity instead) and instead investments in encouraging locals and visitors to mingle in spaces that work for everyone.
* A good decription of plantation thinking found online: The natural environment is heavily managed with interventions of all kinds to protect againsts pests and disease. There is a narrow view of what the desired outcomes are. Anything that grows outside clearly defined parameters is weeded out. It is important for all specimens to reach certain minimum standards but there is little or no room for diversity. This tendency towards a monoculture with a narrow gene pool halts natural evolution and increases vulnerability to long term or sudden environmental change. There is uniformity, conformity and an emphasis on control. The plantation managers are profoundly risk averse and, where improvements are needed, have a predisposition to seek out tried and tested methods with predictable outcomes.