There is a new mayor in town

topos 105 contains an article about LaToya Cantrell, the first female mayor of New Orleans. She led the recovery of one of the city’s neighborhoods after Hurricane Katrina. Our author discusses the question: Can she facilitate the coordination, cooperation and funding that are critical for achieving the city’s resilience towards future disasters? Accompanying the print article, we present a five-part series on our website.

The first part deals with the cityscape of New Orleans, which before and independently of Katrina was already marked by social vulnerability that can be traced within the urban fabric.

New Orleans Architecture
Photo: Mark Kammerbauer

New Orleans, the “Crescent City”, the “Sliver by the River”, currently celebrates its 300th anniversary. August 29th also marked the thirteenth year after Hurricane Katrina triggered a catastrophic disaster in the city, followed by a dysfunctional response and a flawed recovery. Before Katrina, New Orleans was already scarred by racial inequalities and social vulnerabilities that can be retraced within the urban fabric, indicating who lives in which neighborhood and why. The flood evacuation and resulting nationwide diaspora led to a dramatic decline in the number of residents. Recently the city reached 90 percent of its pre-Katrina population count, some neighborhoods even report population growth. Yet the share of African Americans is lower, and the departure of poor and black residents after Katrina has changed the face of the city.

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New strategies

Some of the lessons learned after Katrina include the realization that disasters aren’t “natural”, but rather the conjunction of at-risk settlement patterns, flawed planning, and vulnerability. This recognition also contributed to developing new strategies aimed at strengthening resilience. Formerly active in supporting the recovery of Broadmoor, one of the city’s neighborhoods, the new Mayor of New Orleans, LaToya Cantrell, is experienced in such efforts.

Freshly inaugurated New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell (with umbrella) dances with the Pinettes Brass Band at Louis Armstrong Park. (Photo Credit: Infrogmation of New Orleans)

True to the context

The previous imperative of controlling nature is challenged by interdisciplinary and integrated planning approaches with social and environmental orientation. While flood resilience can be enhanced by taking into account the everyday life of residents, it also has an achilles’ heel: the social vulnerability of the population, related to poverty and lacking equality of opportunity. Planners and designers therefore have the responsibility to develop ethical and adequate solutions for resilient architecture, cities and landscapes – true to the context and based on collaboration and innovation.

To be continued…

Read the article about how LaToya Cantrell fights the consequences of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in topos 105.