How a depoliticised rebuilding process ignores the question ‘ whose city is this?’ A look at the Holy Cross former school site.
‘This is a matter of whose rights are being protected. Who does it benefit? The community versus the developer. What you are dealing with is not a Lower Ninth Ward or Holy Cross issue – it’s a citywide issue. Whose city is this?’
A resident of New Orleans gave the statement above in the spring of 2014 at a hearing with the city’s Historic District Landmarks Commission. Here, the development of the Holy Cross former school site, in the Holy Cross neighbourhood of the Lower Ninth Ward, was discussed. The particular hearing was one of many taking place prior to the New Orleans City Council voting on a proposed zone change for the site submitted by Perez APC – a locally based architecture and development firm behind the proposed project. The zone change was approved not long after the hearing with the Historic District Landmarks Commission despite public protest from members of the Holy Cross neighbourhood, and the failure of both the Historic District Landmarks Commission and the Architectural Review Committee to bring unanimous recommendations on the matter to the partly newly elected City Council.
Following the zone change, Holy Cross residents took legal measures against the City, as neighbourhood advocates viewed the decision of the City Council to be the result of an undemocratic process, and as an assault at a primarily black, working-class, designated historic neighbourhood mostly consisting of small-scale Creole architectural structures. In spite of this, Perez APC initiated the construction on the first phase of the controversial development earlier this year.
But how did a private developer convince a political body to allow for a massive, modernist construction, which in spite of it not tearing down any existing structures, will drastically alter the use and aesthetics of a neighbourhood, which received historic designation in 1990 precisely to protect the latter? […]