New Orleans Is Worth Preserving

Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin wrote a great piece about why New Orleans must be rebuilt.

Four words describe the New Orleans that has been socked by Hurricane Katrina: disaster, yes; apocalypse, no.

The horizontal tableau of entire neighborhoods swamped beneath stinking, sewage-infested waters is as stunning as the vertical drama of the collapsing twin towers in New York. Big cities are symbols of human achievement. We do not expect them to be humbled by nature and evacuated anymore than we expected terrorists to fly jets into skyscrapers.

But the relentless focus of the media eye on New Orleans’ sunken areas and the unprecedented dispersal of its residents obscure the bigger picture: The real issue is not whether to rebuild the Big Easy, but how.

Cities are collective works of art, and New Orleans is one of America’s masterpieces — a delectable multicultural gumbo whose value is only more pronounced in a nation where the same stores, banks and malls make every place feel like every other place.

For that reason alone, the much-hyped “should we rebuild New Orleans?” debate is preposterous. Of course we should save New Orleans. To abandon it would be like Italy abandoning Venice. Besides, anybody who sets foot in this town knows that the best parts of New Orleans don’t need to be rebuilt. They’re still there.

You could hold a Mardi Gras parade tomorrow in the bone-dry French Quarter. The modern office towers and hotels of the central business district, graceless though they are, remain standing, poised to resume their role as hubs of commerce. Some of the city’s extraordinary neighborhoods, such as the Garden District, with its white-columned antebellum mansions, came through the storm with little more than downed trees.

There is a difference, the surviving structures make clear, between mass evacuation and mass destruction. New Orleans is not a new Atlantis, at least not all of it. Its physical heart beats on. Its neighborhood architecture is as stylishly seductive as ever. It will continue to cast its intoxicating charm.

Read the entire article here. (Registration required)

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