Page N3.2 . 02 August 2006                     
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    Who Cares?


    Autodesk is working with McGraw-Hill Construction to provide a mobile lab giving architects and builders access to computer-based tools to assist rebuilding. Housed in three trailers in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Kenner, Louisiana, just west of New Orleans, the lab maintains an archive of information on some 2,000 local New Orleans building projects. One of the trailers is a design studio with free access to donated computers, software, Internet service, and plotters.

    Despite such examples of support, the Gulf Coast is still working to develop a clear roadmap for the enormous reconstruction project, even as the next storm season is underway. The terrain is rough, and there are plenty of obstacles. Building materials are in short supply, and their cost has gone up. With time passing, the potential for another hurricane strike before the large-scale reconstruction of Gulf Coast cities is complete is only increasing.

    Gulf Coast Band-Aids

    In April, 2006, with a $3.5 million grant from the New York City-based Rockefeller Foundation, Louisiana launched the Community Fund Support Organization. The organization expects to spend about $8 million to come up with a rebuilding plan. Billions in federal community-development grants are on hold until rebuilding plans are in place.

    Reese Fayde, chief executive officer of Living Cities, a collaborative of financial institutions, national foundations, and a federal agency committed to community and urban development, admits there will never be enough money to do everything that needs to be done to rebuild the Gulf Coast unless the public and private sectors partner aggressively. For now, her response is similar to Bernstein's: there are lots of plans and little action.

    A partnership among three Baptist organizations will bring $1 billion in resources to rebuild houses, churches, and businesses in New Orleans. The repair of the levee alone, however, is estimated to cost $6.1 billion. New federal advisories on flooding and levee protection indicate many of the city's flood-damaged homes will likely have to be raised one to three feet (30 to 90 centimeters) to qualify for flood insurance, according to the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA).

    Developers Weigh In

    "Someone there told me, 'We have 70 plans, therefore we have no plan,'" Fayde says. "It's hard to figure out how Louisiana will coalesce around a single plan." Fayde believes any plan at the neighborhood level should include mixed-income and affordable housing. His vision is to bring in talented developers who have built successful affordable housing projects in other parts of the country.

    Indeed, developers are already starting to declare their intentions. KB Home and The Shaw Group have formed a joint venture to build housing in Louisiana. The project will provide new houses to stricken areas for a broad range of demographics. Others are planning to "green" New Orleans with 10 principles for sustainable development.

    Some 160 design and construction specialists, along with area community leaders, contributed to the plan for creating healthier and stronger communities called "The New Orleans Principles: Celebrating the Rich History of New Orleans."

    Bob Odell of the U.S. Green Building Council hopes that New Orleans will seriously address global climate change in its rebuilding. If it does, he says, "it could be a stronger city physically, economically, and culturally, and become the new New Orleans."

    Betting on Building Codes

    One lynchpin of all plans, though, is the adoption of stronger building codes. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour recently signed two bills into law that pave the way for mandatory minimum building codes in Mississippi. While neither bill fully establishes a statewide code, the laws take the state one step closer to protecting its people and their property.

    "While talking with legislators this session, it became clear that building regulation is not something Mississippi welcomes," says Nanette Lockwood, legislative affairs manager at Solutia, Inc., a St. Louis, Missouri-based manufacturer of hurricane-resistant residential building materials. "This is a positive step forward, though."

    Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco signed a bill in December that calls for the state to adopt the International Building Code, International Existing Building Code, International Residential Code, International Mechanical Code, and the International Fuel Gas Code. The bill applies to buildings rebuilt in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and to all buildings built or rebuilt statewide starting in 2007.

    "The massive effort to rebuild Louisiana will be long and difficult. However, with the international codes in place to help guide reconstruction, homes and businesses will be safer, stronger, and more resistant to future natural disasters," says Sara Yerkes, International Code Council senior vice president of government relations.

    A Cultural Shift

    A major problem is that some builders in the south are not accustomed to working with codes — or even with engineers, Lockwood explains, and implementing building codes is not easy. Solutia is urging the industry to provide training for builders, architects, and building departments to help them learn how to correctly specify and inspect glazing products.

    "Builders are going to have to embrace the thought of inspectors. It's a cultural change for them," Lockwood says. "Louisiana now has some of the best legislation for building codes and it should serve well as a template. Just getting the building codes enacted in Louisiana in a year is a huge success."

    The work to rebuild the Gulf Coast continues with local efforts by Habitat for Humanity International and AmeriCorps. Chicago-based nonprofit KaBOOM is heading up Operation Playground: Rebuilding Playgrounds Restoring Childhoods. The Home Depot has committed $57 million to support capital projects in the Gulf Coast region. Despite the lack of an overall plan, some are heartened by the contributions of rebuilding support from corporate, nonprofit, and hands-on volunteers from across the nation.

    Editor's Postscript

    The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has recently announced that, of 7381 public apartments in New Orleans before Katrina, 1000 are now open, 1000 are under repair, and about 5000 are planned for demolition. According to Army Corps of Engineers officials, some 15,000 more privately-owned buildings are expected to be demolished with the owners' eventual permission.

    So many residents remain displaced — some 55,000 of the original 70,000 residents of St. Bernard Parish, for example, with many of their former homes gone or disappearing — that activists are asking if their treatment even meets the minimum requirements of international law. Meanwhile, FEMA is reportedly paying $250,000 per month in storage rent for 10,000 mobile homes, parked and empty in Hope, Arkansas.

    With suicide rates at least three times greater than before the 2005 storm season, people are still dying in these disaster conditions. "This is a trauma that didn't last 24 hours, then go away," Kathleen Crapanzano, director of the Louisiana Office of Mental Health, is quoted as saying. "It goes on and on."

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

    Jennifer LeClaire is a freelance writer based in Miami Beach, Florida, specializing in architecture and design.



    ArchWeek Image

    Damage and destruction to houses in Biloxi, Mississippi, typical of extensive Hurricane Katrina-caused damage on the Gulf Coast.
    Photo: Mark Wolfe/ FEMA

    ArchWeek Image

    Navy Seabees clean up debris in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
    Photo: Mark Wolfe/ FEMA

    ArchWeek Image

    A house in Biloxi, pushed off its foundation by Hurricane Katrina.
    Photo: Mark Wolfe/ FEMA

    ArchWeek Image

    Workers from Habitat for Humanity International and AmeriCorps*NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) construct framing for a bunkhouse for volunteers assisting with Gulf Coast recovery in Gulfport, Mississippi.
    Photo: George Armstrong/ FEMA

    ArchWeek Image

    An AmeriCorps*NCCC member works on reconstruction.
    Photo: George Armstrong/ FEMA

    ArchWeek Image

    Framing is a group effort of Habitat for Humanity, AmeriCorps*NCCC, and Starbucks corporate volunteers.
    Photo: George Armstrong/ FEMA

    ArchWeek Image

    The U.S. Highway 90 bridge east of Biloxi was totally destroyed during and after Hurricane Katrina.
    Photo: Mark Wolfe/ FEMA

    ArchWeek Image

    Highway 90 in Biloxi was another victim of Hurricane Katrina.
    Photo: Mark Wolfe/ FEMA


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