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Quarter Two: New Orleans is both beautiful and sad and I hate you Fake Robert De Niro

December 27, 2010

April - New Orleans

Caroline and I boarded a plane for New Orleans mid-week.  We spent the first two days wandering around the city.  We covered a lot of ground and I came to a lot of conclusions about this city.  New Orleans is an emotional city.  It elicits feelings unlike any other place I’ve visited.  Sure, the raucous noise of New York City is something to consider as are the tragedies each city succumbed to during the first half of the decade, but unlike NYC I felt that the concentration of population within a relatively small geographic area put the tensions percolating under the surface in much better perspective.  The feelings of every resident seemed palpable.  And, perhaps most interesting, the city bears the scars of these emotions throughout its neighborhoods.  The photo above is a pair of residences in the French Quarter on the cusp of the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood.  What I loved about the New Orleans neighborhoods is the juxtaposition of modest with opulent or large with small.  In this city, structure bears witness to life – its complications, its contradictions; its burdens and its hopes.  The French Quarter was largely unaffected by Hurricane Katrina, but the affect of time and of nature is no more evident than in the Upper Ninth Ward.

April - New Orleans and American Planning Association Conference

One of the myths dispelled by my visit to NOLA was our tour guides reiteration that the upper and lower ninth ward had the highest rate of black homeownership in America.  My knowledge, based upon news coverage in 2005, had me believing, and I’d venture to guess many others, that this was a modern day ghetto.  Perhaps an association perpetuated by the simple presence of an African American- dominated community or maybe it was something else.   Never the less, the hardest hit neighborhood of New Orleans is a neighborhood black working class Americans.  This realization was profoundly affecting; I thought comparatively and I got really angry.  As we drove through the neighborhood, “X’s” marking dead or alive and the omnipresent bathtub rings around every building reminded me of the salt-water depth and the still present damage and destruction.  Today I think about the compounding affect of an oil spill and corporate irresponsibility on the still-stifled recovery of this region.

May - Design Analysis

Fake Robert De Niro was my design analysis professor and he wasn’t very good at it.  He assigned a ridiculous number of projects and fell asleep during our final presentation (Thanks Fake Robert De Niro, I hate you), but he assigned really beautiful design books that will sit on my coffee table for life and I’ll never forget the principles of public space design as outlined by Lynch, Bacon, Whyte and Jacobs.  In fact, those books made me understand why a city inspires a certain feeling in the visitor.

June - Summer in Montana and Land Use Planning internship

In June, I decided to move home to spend the summer in Butte.  The decision was precipitated by two things: my grandfather’s broken hip and an internship updating a zoning code for Butte – Silver Bow.  During the first few days, I spent untold amounts of time at the nursing home with my grandfather delving deep into conversations rife with perspective.  And I worked hard too, hard to understand the intricacies of open space zoning and balancing the interests of recreation, conservation and environmental degradation.  Intense.

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