UT Professor to Help New Orleans Recover from Katrina

KNOXVILLE –- A University of Tennessee architecture professor is part of a team that will develop the plan to help New Orleans recover from Hurricane Katrina.

Mark Schimmenti is a lead urban designer on a team headed by Frederic Schwartz Architects of New York. Schimmenti said he and Schwartz — who recently taught a class on the rebuilding of New Orleans at Harvard University — have worked together on projects for more than 20 years.

The Schwartz team is one of five groups hired through the Unified New Orleans Plan, a privately funded initiative endorsed by city officials. The work is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, which has contributed $3.5 million, and the Greater New Orleans Foundation, which has contributed $1 million.

The team, along with the other groups involved, will develop plans for specific neighborhoods that can be pulled together into a citywide plan. Officials will use the plan to secure federal money for rebuilding the areas devastated by the storm. Katrina hit on Aug. 29, 2005.

Earlier this month, The New Orleans Times Picayune newspaper ran a story explaining the problems the city has had recovering from the storm and how the Unified New Orleans Plan is supposed to pull together the disjointed efforts now under way.

“Although New Orleans’ citywide recovery planning process has experienced starts and stalls over the past 13 months, those involved say it’s about to kick into high gear with the Unified New Orleans Plan,” the paper reported. “Over the next four months, teams working throughout Orleans Parish’s 13 planning districts will ask residents and neighborhood groups a key question: ‘What do you want for your neighborhood and your city’s future?'”

The article said, “The Unified New Orleans Plan is intended to work on two main levels: districtwide and citywide, incorporating work that’s been done with new feedback from residents.”

The Times Picayune said the “starting point for the Unified New Orleans Plan includes three main assumptions: that every New Orleans resident has the right to return and rebuild; that better levees and hurricane protection will be built; and that New Orleans will receive ‘its fair share’ of federal dollars to finance the rebuilding process.”

Schimmenti said his team is responsible for two districts of the city. Those districts encompass 18 neighborhoods, including the upscale areas of Uptown, the neighborhood around Tulane University and Audubon Park, more modest neighborhoods in the Mid-City area and near the New Orleans Fairgrounds, and several public housing complexes.

An urban designer with an expertise in neighborhood revitalization, Schimmenti’s primary responsibility will be conducting eight public meetings — four in each of the two districts.

The first round of meetings will be held Oct. 14, with more meetings in November and December. During the meetings, Schimmenti and his team will talk with residents of the districts about how they want their neighborhoods to re-emerge, including the re-establishment of city services and community features and improvements to New Orleans as a whole.

“We’re not so much about helping people get money to rebuild their houses as rebuilding the fabric of the community,” he said. “We will develop a plan that will help put the city back together and make sure it’s done in a way to help the people get safely out if another hurricane like Katrina hits — and we’re working under the premise that it will happen again.”

Firms developing recovery plans for other parts of New Orleans are H3 Studio of St. Louis; Goody Clancy of Boston; ACORN Housing of New Orleans; and EDSA of Columbia, Md.

All of the teams must submit drafts of their plans by December and have them finalized in January. The citywide plan will then be submitted to the City Planning Commission, the City Council, the mayor’s office and the Louisiana Recovery Authority.

Although Schimmenti’s students at UT won’t be doing any work on the project, he said he will share his experience in New Orleans with them and let them learn from it.

“I will keep my students up to date on it because the rebuilding of New Orleans is one of the biggest planning projects ever,” he said. “Also, I plan to take my students down in November on a field trip so they can get a taste for the situation and the task first-hand. It’s an opportunity I must give them.”

Staying active in urban planning “keeps me on my toes so I can be a better teacher,” he said.

Schimmenti’s past projects include authoring the new Master Plan for Nashville, a project developed from feedback solicited in 41 neighborhoods. He also is a founding member of the Congress for the New Urbanism, a nationally recognized movement that promotes mixed use — areas that contain parcels zoned for both commercial and residential facilities — in c`ommunity development.

For more information about the Unified New Orleans plan, see http://unifiedneworleansplan.com/home2/

For more information about Schimmenti and the Schwartz team, see http://www.unifiedneworleansplan.com/uploads/FredSchwartzWEBPOST-41151.pdf


Contacts:

Mark Schimmenti, (865) 974-5265, mms@utk.edu
Amy Blakely, (865) 974-5034 or amy.blakely@tennessee.edu
Beth Gladden, (865) 974-9008 or beth.gladden@tennessee.edu