This past weekend a Regional & Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT) from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has been leading community revitalisation workshops in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, an area devastated by hurricane Katrina.
The Lower Ninth Ward is an urban district of New Orleans surrounded by water on all sides with a man-made canal to its north west and the Mississippi River to its south. Today just 6,500 people live there with a third of these households living below the poverty line. The new Mayor of New Orleans, LaToya Cantrell, has pledged city support to renew the restoration efforts.
The revitalisation workshops were spurred by a coalition of faith-based organisations, planners, architects and artists in the community which came together to organise a new effort for the urban regeneration of the neighbourhood.
“The role of the AIA team is to work with these partners and the community to create a neighbourhood-based strategy for the regeneration. The central components of the strategy are on generating equitable development that doesn’t displace the community but serves as a vehicle to facilitate economic mobility and strengthen community.” – Joel Mills, Senior Director of Communities by Design, AIA
The four-day workshop process has included meetings with the steering committee, local tours, stakeholder sessions, and an open house event. To ensure the AIA team is capturing and reflecting on what residents are telling them, they follow a series of feedback loops.
Prior to the weekend’s workshops, the AIA’s Communities by Design released a short film about the project which gathered over 12,000 views on social media. It’s believed the film helped bring significantly more participation to the workshops.
A resident in the film explains,
“The Lower Ninth Ward was historically, one of the most progressive, black-owned communities in the entire country.”
Before Katrina in 2005, nearly 20,000 people lived there over 90% of whom were African-Americans. The flood waters, a result of the hurricane and a breach in the levee, destroyed 5,000 of their homes. Following the destruction there were an estimated 15 attempts to recover the neighbourhood through different planning initiatives, but none were successful at helping restore the neighbourhood.
There appears to be a renewed sense of determination for people of this community. One resident said,
“This is the first time I have seen energy like this in the lower 9th. This feels like a new beginning.”
It’s a positive shift in a difficult story; no doubt many will be watching with hope as the AIA team, the local organisations and residents work together to build a brighter future.