New New Orleans v N.x

with Clare Newman (2006)
originally published in The Question of New Orleans, Columbia University, 2007.

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An Attempt at Rational Planning

In his essay "A Proposed Reconstruction Methodology for New Orleans," Richard Campanella (2005) outlined a planning methodology whereby one could deduce a new New Orleans. "The methodology is based on one overriding principle -- that the best decisions are based on solid, scientific data rather than emotions or politics -- and tries to balance four fundamental (and sometimes) conflicting values."

Campanella's suggestion has understandable appeal. It implies that we can conclusively find a "fair" and "right" answer for New Orleans' politically contentious reconstruction. It implies that through science we can remove politics, heartbreak, and bias from the planning process and simply solve for x. Campanella's methodology suggests that, by relying on clear mathematics, good data may be all we need for objectivity and objectivity may be all we need for fairness.

This suitability study is modeled on Campanella's proposal. His four criteria (environmental safely, historic significance, returning populations, and structural safety) are intentionally the four criteria used here. However, identifying and weighing four criteria does not create a plan, because "value in planning settings comes in plural forms -- some quantifiable, some obviously not" (Forester 1999). Decisions -- value judgments -- must be made: Whose "history" defines historic significance? Are the wishes of returning residents as important as environmental safety? To which datasets can we gain access? Whose data do we trust? Our attempts at this methodology reveal the necessary but typically overlooked subjectivity inherent in a quasi-scientific planning process. The critical examination of any reconstruction plan requires considering the plan as a representation of its planners' values.

In total, we have produced 27 new New Orleans (3 series of 9 iterations), and each city has been different from the others. They range from preserving only the historic city to rebuilding for over 400,000 people. The three series vary in their data sources, and the final series New New Orleans v 3.x is presented here (above) to demonstrate the variety of cities resulting from differences in priorities.

The Four Criteria and New New Orleans defined by their data sources (for v 3.x):

  1. Environmental Safety is determined by the areas of pre-Katrina FEMA-designated floodplains.
  2. Historic Significance is defined by the National Register of Historic Places' recognized historic districts and places.
  3. Returning Population estimates are given by zip code as projected by GCR for the University of New Orleans Research and Technology Park, Advanced Technology Center, 2005.
  4. Structural Safety of existing post-Katrina buildings is based on the extent and depth of Katrina flooding and the number of unengineered wood homes per census block. Both datasets are available through FEMA.

Lastly, the population implications of New New Orleans v 3.x is described using 2000 Census data pertaining to different versions of the developable city (marked in green), approximated by block group.