Most people who've paid attention to the progress of post-Katrina cities will recall that about six months ago Brad Pitt, donning his new starchitect hat, joined Global Green USA to sponsor a design competition to rebuild New Orleans neighborhoods sustainably. Now the selection committee - which included local residents - have announced the winners.
Andrew Kotchen and Matthew Berman of Workshop/APD will build GREENOLA, a 12 unit multi-family housing building, six single family residences, and a community center, all in the Holy Cross neighborhood of the 9th Ward, one of the hardest hit and most poorly served areas of New Orleans. Their modular design incorporates rainwater collection and recycling as a means of mitigating potential floodwater and keeping healthy the greenery that will grow along the facade to insulate and protect the building. It also integrates natural ventilation and a geothermal system as a means of reducing energy needs and greenhouse emissions. According to the Global Green press release:
If 50,000 homes were rebuilt according to the energy cost reduction goals in the competition, residents would save $38 million to $56 million EVERY year. Each sustainably designed home would also reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 11 tons per household per year, the equivalent of taking 100,000 cars off the road.
But it's not just about the homes themselves for Workshop/Apd, their proposal thinks quite comprehensively about neighborhood design and the needs of the community. The fundamental concept revolves around permaculture - not just in the gardening sense - but as a philosophy for building a self-nourishing, self-sustaining local environment.
On our site, public space for a farmers' market and a community garden makes use of local produce, limiting the amount of energy and expense used to ship food from afar. A community compost heap also aids the fertilization of green roofs, while reducing the demand for landfill space.
In a city where 100,000 citizens do not have access to a personal vehicle1, public transportation is a necessity. A bus/trolley stop provides convenient access to local and regional employment, and onsite commercial space and childcare facilities reduce the amount of transportation related pollution.
The architects emphasize walkability, green space, and on-site energy generation, while keeping in mind the possibility of disaster. A green roof and rainwater catchment system at GREENOLA aren't just for ecological benefit; they also serve an accessible refuge and a storehouse for clean water in the event of another serious storm.
There were a number of finalists whose proposals were also demonstrative of a whole-systems approach to rebuilding. Ideally it's that idea -- that recovering from a housing shortage doesn't just mean throwing up livable replacements, but considering how life could be in a new New Orleans.
Let's not go too overboard with walkability in New Orleans. While it is good in places -- the French Quarter is primarily a walking district -- there is one serious, serious problem with walkability in the South.
It's bloody hot out there.
I've lived in the South (I was born about five hours' driving distance from New Orleans) and in Boston (a very walkable city). People in the North notice the heat in the summer when they visit, but what they don't notice is that it stays hot from April to October inclusive. Force people to walk outside for everything without relief and they will resent you -- and stay inside.
This isn't to say that walkability is impossible in the South -- it just means that it requires a different philosophy. Shade is important; encouraging breezes is important. Another good idea is to incorporate interior corridors (of malls, public buildings, etc.) with a side-street feel and easy two-way street access, or even to roof small streets and air-condition them. This is cognate to the opposite tactic (of roofing and heating small streets) that has been used to great effect in Quebec City.