Planning conference kicks off Saturday in New Orleans

April 9, 2010

By Thomas J. Walsh
For PlanPhilly

Last year’s conference of the American Planning Association, held in late April 2009, was in Minneapolis, the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Quite by design, the APA’s convention this year will be held in New Orleans, the storied city that is the Mississippi’s terminus.

Like last year, PlanPhilly will be there, and this time we will try our best to bring you daily video updates from the Crescent City, somewhat along the lines of the dispatches sent by Mark Alan Hughes in December, when he blogged from Copenhagen about the United Nations Climate Change Conference there. New Orleans, from everything we’ve ever heard and seen about it, is a gorgeous place, so we’ll frequently point the camera in the city’s direction.

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The conference – which includes sessions and tours of the Big Easy for educators, citizens, business leaders and elected officials as well as planners – starts Saturday and runs through next Tuesday, April 13. U.S. Secretary for Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan kicks things off Sunday morning with the opening keynote address.

Four and a half years after Hurricane Katrina, “New Orleans is an example of survival, creative thinking, and spirit,” said Roberta Rewers, a spokeswoman from the APA said, in a statement earlier this week. “See how planners across the Mississippi delta are leading the way, fostering safe, healthy, and livable communities and addressing concerns about energy security, the threat of climate change, economic restructuring, aging and inadequate infrastructure, and environmental degradation.”

Four members of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission will be attending: Deputy Executive Director Gary Jastrzab; Alan Urek (director of the Strategic Planning and Policy Division); Larissa Klevan (development planning); and Laura Spina (community planning).

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New Orleans city sign

Zoning Code Commissioner Eva Gladstein is among the panelists for a Sunday afternoon discussion, “Comprehensive Zoning Reform in Three Cities.” She’ll be joined by colleagues from Baltimore and Washington, D.C., which, like Philadelphia, are undertaking comprehensive overhauls of their outdated zoning codes. Jastrzab will also sit on a panel, talking Tuesday morning about the concept of a Citizens Planning Institute, something the Philly Planning Commission will implement later this year.

Apart from the conference, PlanPhilly will get a Saturday morning tour of the houses designed and built by the “Make It Right” nonprofit for the Lower 9th Ward – perhaps better known as the “Brad Pitt houses.” Pitt recruited 14 top-shelf architecture firms from around the world (four are New Orleans-based) to render 14 distinct designs for the houses. Among them: Philadelphia-based Kieran Timberlake.

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Kieran Timberlake Katrina house design

Some broad themes you can expect from our conference coverage include mixed-use comprehensive planning, historic preservation, neighborhood planning, and “revitalization and redevelopment.”

Like last year in Minneapolis, sessions and field trips will focus on riverfront development and beautification efforts. The program guide describes a Monday session: “Explore opportunities for New Orleans to reconnect its historic riverfront neighborhoods to the river, a connection that has been blocked for the last 100 years by wharves and warehouses.” Sound familiar?

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New Orleanians want to reconnect to their river, too.

In addition, the APA has picked up on the urban agriculture trend. At least one session will deal with crafting policy that supports urban farming, including issues that Philadelphia is just starting to fully get its arms around, such as “where and how to allow sales of food grown in the city, and whether to permit agriculture as an interim use on underutilized private land,” according to the program guide.

The official program will cover four themes: climate change implications; the built environment; economic, social, and environmental considerations; and international collaboration.

Lisa Jackson, EPA administrator for the Obama administration, will speak at Monday’s plenary session, discussing “Delta urbanism.” Adolfo Carrión Jr., director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs and a former planner, will give the closing keynote address on Tuesday.

Check in with PlanPhilly throughout the weekend and through next Tuesday to see how things are going. On a related programming note, so to speak, don’t miss “Treme,” debuting Sunday evening on HBO. The series, created by David Simon and Eric Overmyer (of “The Wire” fame), takes place three months after Hurricane Katrina, as residents of the musically rich and historic neighborhood of Treme (tra-MA), hard by the French Quarter, get their lives and homes back together.

Contact the reporter at thomaswalsh1@gmail.com.

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