Katrina Revisited: Patty Gay, PRCNO, and Successful Rebuilding Amid Challenges

By Special Contributor posted 08-27-2015 10:57

By Patty Gay

This week marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a devastating storm that affected the entire Gulf Coast. In this three-part series, we'll hear from three individuals—Richard Moe, Walter Gallas, and Patty Gay—who worked on recovery and preservation efforts in the wake of the storm.

 4804 Dauphine Street in Holy Cross, in 2005 following Hurricane Katrina. | Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans
4804 Dauphine Street in Holy Cross, in 2005 following Hurricane Katrina. | Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans
Before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005, the older neighborhoods throughout the city had experienced more than four decades of remarkable revitalization success, thanks to historic preservation programs and heroic efforts to reverse urban population decline. This phenomenon, which involves love of city and neighborhood and, consequently, incredible determination to restore, was key to the extraordinary recovery of the city from the devastating impact of the storm and subsequent flooding of three-quarters of the city.

The spirit that drives revitalization in New Orleans is contagious. Preservationists see blighted and un-recovered neighborhoods as opportunities for additional housing and commercial development and growth. Not to mention the thrill of restoring a building to its former glory, whether modest or grand. 

It was love and devotion for their special city and its neighborhoods that brought New Orleans residents back to the city determined to rebuild, no matter what the conditions. Today, one can only be positive, as it can be said that so many New Orleans neighborhoods never looked better. There are caveats, however. Much remains to be done and preservationists must take steps to keep the interest in addressing blight alive.

Demolition continues to be a threat. In most cases, the remaining, unrestored buildings are located in blighted neighborhoods, which are often adjacent to thriving neighborhoods, and while the positive spill-over may be happening, it usually is not happening fast enough to prevent demolitions. Incentives and marketing, such as provided by preservation programs, could be applied in any neighborhood whether old or new.
  4804 Dauphine in 2007 after being renovated as part of Operation Comeback. | Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans
4804 Dauphine in 2007 after being renovated as part of Operation Comeback. | Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans

Additionally, there is a related problem: sales prices in these neighborhoods are escalating due to proximity to restored neighborhoods, with some buildings being restored, but not enough in number due to the high cost of restoration plus acquisition. There are answers—strict enforcement of regulations governing demolition-by-neglect, for one, with greater penalties, in addition to incentives. Again, when in place, such preservation incentives more than repay any cost through the thriving economy that ensues.

Since the storm, there has been considerable traditional housing construction and restoration of historic properties for low-income residents, predominantly in mixed-income neighborhoods. Yet some areas in the city still lack sufficient housing for low- to moderate-income residents, and long-time residents and businesses are being displaced. Remedies might include grants for renovation and property tax incentives for low- to moderate-income residents. Yet thriving neighborhoods are also experiencing demolitions. The city’s successful recovery is resulting in the demolition of more modest—usually historic—houses for “McMansions.”

Even before Katrina, inappropriate tourism development was a problem. Today, thriving historic neighborhoods continue to experience negative effects from tourism, starting with the Vieux Carré but including almost all other neighborhoods. Problems include illegal short-term rentals, high-density hotels and lack of enforcement of regulations on bars and restaurants. Tourists are attracted to, and impressed by, thriving inner-city neighborhoods and the local businesses they support, yet without thoughtful action by city leaders, tourism development is likely to negatively impact quality of life and local businesses. Should the city capitalize on visitor interest in thriving neighborhoods, rather than allow detrimental new development, more of the city could benefit from restoration and business investment in unrecovered neighborhoods.

A map of metro New Orleans parishes & their respective population recovery patterns. Notice the majority higher numbers in historic neighborhoods (Orleans Parish). Click to Expand. | Credit: Emmett Mayer III and The New Orleans Advocate, 8/1/15
In spite of these challenges, the city is frequently ranked high in many surveys, something that did not happen before the storm. Recovery efforts have been remarkably successful. If the city focuses on the “problems of success” and chooses to use the strategies that have worked so well before the storm and after, New Orleans, with its outstanding urban plan and historic built environment and unique cultural heritage, can indeed look forward to more accolades as one of the most livable, interesting and prosperous cities in the United States.

Patty Gay is the executive directof or the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans.

#HurricaneKatrina #Sustainability #Advocacy

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