Saturday, March 31, 2007

life just got a little bit tougher in Lagalou..

Please first read the lead story on for Saturday, March 31:

Then,I ask all of you to seriously think about how you feel about the proposed MidCity big box development. As a very close neighbor, I am distraught and concerned that my plans to build a new home and be a part of a new liveable community at the end of Bayou St. John are being seriously jeopardized.

I grew up in a small, inner circle suburb of Cleveland Ohio, where the city had been left alone as a walkable, bikable community for the most part, with most people going to the city for their shopping- 10 minutes away.
Over the time I lived there and then since, there has been some big box intrusion at the level that is found on Metairie Road- somewhat fitting into the fabric of the area, but terrible traffic issues, with more corporate chains taking over the small stores until it seems like a suburban area. Still my hometown fights large scale corporate developers (to their credit) and have allowed a selection of small stores to be still viable. Not the best city today, but stil some flavor survives; when there, I can go to the 30 year old natural food store, to the best bakery I have ever been to (sorry LaSpiga, you're close!), and bike to a great fair trade coffeehouse (not as good as Fair Grinds!)

One town over, the city has not been so lucky. A strip mall was allowed on a small county type road, widened to 8 lanes and today, it is unrecognizable as a area that had existed as some homes and some retail, as all of the homes have been bought on this road and turned into strip mall after strip mall. Miles and miles of it. same stuff you see everywhere.

We all say in our heads, yeah, but that is not New Orleans. New Orleans is an historic city. We love our small neighborhoods. We use our small stores.
That was, before Katrina.
Since, we have seen the disappearance of almost all of the individually owned hardware stores in downtown, replaced by large chain stores. They are doing very well folks. At the same time, the small stores that have stayed in business like United Hardware on Elysian Fields and Eddie's on Downman cannot even get all the items sold to the Lowe's and Home Depot, like paperless sheetrock.
Could not get it in 2006.
Only sold at big box stores thank you.

We have seen the corporate chains who built big box food stores and wore out the small stores decide in many cases NOT to reopen after the storm. Thanks for everything Winn Dixie. And yes, to be fair, where is Robert's I do wonder?

So to hear that the type of retail that has no executives that will live within 200 miles of these stores, that believes only in concrete empty facades, that pays their employees below a living wage, will be taking over quiet, green residential MidCity has brought me to tears a few times today.

I have even worked at two of these chains, and they treated me passably well as a manager, so should I complain? I think I should, since I know if I had a choice back then to work at a locally owned bookstore or natural food store I would have grabbed it. And you know, I would probably still be working there.
Not that my coworkers or boss were evil; that's the thing- all of the power is WAAY above store level, so there is no way to work one on one with a bad neighbor like that. You get the same blank facade as the store itself when you try to refashion its size or its practices. Not possible at store level.

Do we need these stores in Orleans parish? Well, I would argue we mostly don't but I work very hard to not shop for a living. Clearly, fashion ain't my strong point, nor is having new stuff to put in my FEMA trailer.
But if we need a department store, or a sporting goods store, why not offer an incentive to Massey's to build a 10,000 square foot store on Carrollton and Tulane in that decomposed strip mall? why not refashion that area as a pedestrian mall, a state of the art bus stop, recycling station for the city behind it and a few local stores to anchor like Massey's? Why build MORE concrete and less water basin in an area that had 9 feet of water in 2005!
Why not take the BOHN Ford building, make it a bicycle/scooter/pedestrian friendly storefront on Lafitte, get some local hardware folks to put a store there, have a Octavia Books type store and okay, maybe we need a national department store. Is there not a footprint right next door to Bohn to put a SMALL architecturally significant clothing/housewares seller? one that is mandated to add green space (and I mean REAL green space, not the Tulane Albertson's type of green space), a children's playground and some natural elements? (good examples abound in Richard Register's book Ecocities and also in the classic A Pattern Language among many many others).

Listen, I feel as if many of you will say, "yeah, it sucks but what can I do"-understandably so. We are absolutely overwhelmed by our own day to day and cannot take every battle on.
But what is clear to me is MidCity is being sold off; and remember it is called the Heart of the City for many reasons, not just because it's in the middle. This is Brocato's, City Park,Venezia's, Bayou St. John, JazzFest, Voodoo Fest, Cabrini Bridge, Jesuit, the FairGrounds and all of that life IS threatened when national chains build concrete 100,000 square feet buildings, and bring the traffic, the light pollution, the trash (have you noticed the sides of Sav-A-Center? ever see employees out picking up trash?).
If MIdCity falls, all is up for grabs, except the sliver of historic areas that many of us cannot afford to live in. I love the historic areas; some of my best pals and my best parents live there, so keep on keeping them on. But do not sacrifice my neighborhood to include suburbia outside of it. How can I seriously think about putting my life savings and more into building a house where this will be across the street basically? Why would I work very minute of the day to save a city to walk in stores that I could see anywhere and that have no concern about who I am and if I am a regular customer or not?

So please, cut and paste any of this you agree with, send it uncut to anyone you think will send it to their city council (all of them need to hear from us) and say, " we want houses, we want street lights, we want walkable liveable neighborhoods that will last into the next century, not concrete monuments to waste."


mags said...

dar, you should post this on the midcity new orleans yahoo group listserv... there's been a lively discussion going on over there since the article came out.

i'm with ya 100%, baby.

darnola said...

hey thanks Mags, any chance you can post my link on that site? it seems better when more voices are involved..