A Teachable Moment
Today, at noon, there were 91,700 entries posted on New Orleans five years after Katrina. Everyone from President Obama to Sandra Bullock got mentioned. But of the thousands of articles, films, blogs, newscasts I skimmed through, not one architect or designer made the media’s list of interviewees. Yet New Orleans’ land use, planning, building and rebuilding—those physical interventions that are needed to create places for people, all of the city’s people—provide an opportunity to make the built environment part of our national discussion.
There are plenty of things to talk about, if journalists and their editors decided to get out of their comfort zones, and look for new sources. For instance, one website, Suite101.com gives useful guidelines for building sustainably in a hot climate, which New Orleans knew how to do at one time, before it, like every other city and every other climate zone, cooled down its buildings and sealed them shut.
So as TV reporters stand in front of those great vernacular houses that make such colorful backdrops, I’d like to encourage them to take a backward glance. What would they see if they looked behind them? They would notice, for instance, how lasting buildings are designed to respond to their local climates. Deep porches, shading, plantings are just a few, easy to grasp, time tested design decisions. Or, if they would take their eyes off Brad Pitt for a second, stopped talking about his newest starring role and the BradJolina empire, and looked beyond the crazy forms his Make it Right New Orleans architects built in the Lower Ninth, they would notice lots of green moves, largely missing today in our beleaguered suburbs.