Archive for June, 2007

27
Jun
07

The Piano Bar at Le Pavillion

While Weboy and the M.A.S. lament their lack of a/c in the stifling humidity and heat of New England, the exact same weather in New Orleans feels balmy and lovely to me, a woman whose toes turn purple at the slightest provocation of chill.  Indeed, I loathe the air conditioning that plagues me throughout the summer.  If I had my way, Weboy, the M.A.S. and I would all be chilling at the rooftop pool here at Le Pavillion.

The rooftop pool at Le Pavillion

Instead, at the moment, I’m nursing a nearly empty Baileys on the rocks in the piano bar.  Probably the most annoying aspect of this rather chez-crumbling-historic hotel is the showtunes in the elevator (no joke: Cats, Phantom of the Opera, others I know but can’t recall after four cocktails tonight), although the high-end service (employee-gentlemen rushing to press the elevator button for you as if you couldn’t possibly manage) and cable (OMG – Daily Show! I never have the pleasure) is certainly appealing. 

The best moment in the bar tonight is the blond behind the piano with the fur wrap laid across it

 Le Pavillion Pianistcoming out for a break, and cornering the vacationing-NY-Jewish-couple-with-son-Jonah-and-adopted-Chinese-daughter-Milan (sp??) to grill them about why they’re here and broadly comparing their experience to her local six children all within several years of one another.  The adult NY’ers had little idea what to do with this information, though responded rather warmly in contrast to their excessively blase children.  Apparently they no longer live in the city and come to NOLA quite frequently.  From there the conversation devolved into the gratuitous thanking of the tourist family for their regional spending, and then the entertainment once more reverted to the 80s soundtrack of the digital music channel playing while the pianist was on break.  I kid you not, “I’ll be Loving You Forever” by New Kids, not to mention Bobby Brown and Jody Watley hits.  This musical nostalgia is a consistent theme I love about New Orleans.

And our pianist concludes a Dan Fogelberg cover and moves on to Carole King as I type.  Meanwhile, Redstar seriously considers a refill of the Baileys.

Unintentionally in honor of my new cousin, tonight I ate at chef John Besh’s latest joint, Luke. 

Luke, New Orleans

Tasty crab, but better, a fun conversation with Ashley, the bartender.  I was hunched over a glass of white wine and genius historian Alice O’Connor’s Poverty Knowledge, furtively and energetically making notes in this hip little journal TK gave me titled “What I Read”, so Ashley verbally surmised that I was “working on something.”  When I mentioned planning, I got my usual somewhat-random-association of earlier patrons who worked for a company that takes 3d photos to use for “planning” and stuff.  I immediately turned the tables of inquiry on her career in the high end food industry (thanks for giving me some insight, Nikki!) and we chatted amiably while I ate.  Our only real glitch was at the end of the meal when she told me her brother lives in Boston, on/near MLK blvd/st, close to “the stadium” and the “waterfront.”  I told her in Boston that wasn’t possible, that she was more likely describing the Bronx (even though MLK in NY is in Harlem).  My recapping later to the M.A.S. confirmed that MLK is in Roxbury, and it’s likely a born-and-raised (white) New Orleanian who’s somehow found himself living in Roxbury, MA could easily equate his address with proximity to Fenway and the ocean.  Boston is teeny-tiny.  Of course, symbolically, and according to neighborhood boundaries, his address is impossible.  I unintentionally chagrined Ashley, but perhaps the joke is actually on parochial old me. 

Staying in such a service-oriented hotel in a block of the Central Business District within walking distance of a multitude of New Orleans neighborhoods (biz, warehouse/hipster/loft living, and FQ), I feel a bit more like a tourist than usual in the midst of my usual familiarity with the city.  I also feel safe here, which is an unusual and satisfying change.  I’m pretty sure I hate the French Quarter. I’ve been taking some camera photos but nothing I feel like throwing up here at the moment.  I have some deeper thoughts re: recovery and participation, but I’d prefer not to do them the garbled injustice of three white wines and a Baileys.  In the interim, I’ve added a new category here at the RP on planning and development, and it’s a collection of some of my best writing on the reality down here. 

Enjoy, even if you can’t be privvy to the Bread, John Lennon and Kansas covers that might stimulate your own thinking on Gulf Coast recovery. 

Here, at least, is a picture of some excellent locally-grown long beans that I ate last night.  TASTY:

Local long beans

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26
Jun
07

Steamy McOrleans

88 degrees and 61% humidity.  My sources tell me it’s worse in Boston. 

Sitting on the king bed in my room at the historic hotel Le Pavillion.  I’ve long been told by New Orleanians that this is THE place to stay in the city (and if you click on the hotel’s link above, you’ll be greeted by some equally insistent classical music), and finally a deal on Travelocity afforded me the chance. 

On the wall is a framed photo of the Doullut Steamboat House in the Lower 9th Ward, a place the M.A.S. and I discovered in our troubling follow-up visit there last summer. 

 Photo of Steamboat House  Steamboat House, L9W

Right now on the local news Gov. Blanco, Lt. Gov. Landrieu and tourism officials are heralding the passage of some sort of tourism bill.  Ironically, while they voiceover that business is only 65% of what it was before Katrina for many establishments down here, the reporter visits a hat store on Royal Street in the Quarter where the proprietor tells him “We’re fine” and marvels that folks continue to call from around the country to make sure they are not “still under water.”  (They never were.)  Her remarks point more to Wesley’s frequent comments here at the RP about how little the reality of life on the Gulf is disseminated nationally than the need for more visitors to the relatively bustling French Quarter.  But, what do I know, I’ll never have a pre-storm comparison to the tourism I see in the Quarter now. 

After rummaging through the mini-bar for some extremely fantastic dark chocolate almonds, I’m off to do some yoga and walk over to one of my local standbys, Herbsaint.  I’m here til Friday.  Pictures of the lobby chandeliers from this 100 year old hotel – “the belle of New Orleans” – and other anecdotes from my latest trip down here sure to follow.

 

25
Jun
07

Never Enough

At a Gulf Coast recovery meeting a few weeks ago, a long-time community activist I respect deeply lambasted Louisiana’s Road Home program – a post-Katrina homeowners’ assistance program – as the “worst piece of legislation” he’s ever seen.  Far be it from me to accuse this nationally-known politically active septegenarian of hyperbole; this is an absolutely abysmal public recovery initiative.  And now the state is about to plow an additional $1B into the already $10B capitalized homeowner’s payout program, in the (foolish) hopes of extracting additional bail-out funds from DC, and at the expense of municipal, rental and small business recovery funds. 

When I worked in Lower Manhattan after September 11, I learned from experience that recovery funds are never enough.  No matter whether you’re a victim’s grieving family member, an ailing small business, or a homeowner trying to rebuild, focusing political energies on extracting recovery monies will only end in frustration and resentment.  I don’t care if you get $1.5M or $5,000, you’ll want more, and you’ll inevitably interpret the payout as representative of your relative value in the all-around recovery process.   Depending on your sense of victimization, entitlement and trauma, it’s highly likely you’ll believe you’ve come up short.

But when it comes to political atrocities like the Road Home program, who can blame you? 

First, there’s the question of all the bad data they appear to be working with.  While we know who to chastise for FEMA’s under-estimates of hurricane damage, it’s less clear who did the math that led to the under-estimates of post-storm construction costs and insurance payouts that have left the state with too little money to cover the average $72k grant to 148,000 applicants.  And given that all this shitty arithmetic means that homeowners are left with much larger financial gaps to overcome in rebuilding, and that the state has made this bloated and mismanaged program the centerpiece of its recovery efforts, it’s reasonable that homeowners want and deserve the funds that the state has promised to them.

But the state should never have allocated this kind of money exclusively to a homeowner recovery problem.  In a state where two-thirds of the physical damage occured in the Greater New Orleans region, an area in which homeownership rates are less than the state and national averages, the Road Home program immediately failed to address the demonstrable needs of renters and their host municipalities who bore a disproportionate amount of the brunt of the 2005 hurricane season.  Secondly, the primary federal funds used for the Road Home program are Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) monies, entitlement funds for states and municipalities to address issues of housing and economic development.  While the state technically is operating with CDBG guidelines by allocating billions of dollars solely for homeowners, it is in spectular violation of the spirit of the CDBG program, which is the current incarnation of historical anti-poverty, affordable housing, and anti-blight federal initiatives in the U.S. 

CDBG funds are also critical for infrastructure development, including schools, government buildings, roads, and other public facilities that are the backbone of local communities.  To close the Road Home shortfall, the state is proposing to cut $50M in additional CDBG funds from other recovery initiatives, including municipal efforts to repair schools and other local structures.  Now picture restoring your home to a pre-storm condition amidst shuttered schools, blackened street lights, rumbled streets, and nearby to overcrowded rental properties because the state starved other recovery programs responsible for rental housing development and infrastructure repair. 

Sounds like a great place to live, don’t you think?  As my highly leveraged small business owners told one of my colleagues in 2005, “If I had known on September 10 what I know now….” they would not have taken on the very expensive fight (emotionally and financially) to stay put in the post-9/11 Lower Manhattan that, to them, changed for the worse around them.  What a shame that the state of Lousiana is setting up its homeowners to learn the same very painful lesson. 

25
Jun
07

Three Dozen

Is the number of my first and second cousins, with the arrival of Lucas Patrick this weekend!

My cousin Erin, TK’s sister, is the proud and able mom, whipping through labor in a matter of hours and bringing the relaxed air that only a nurse who works with babies can offer to the thrilling, overwhelming uncertainties of new motherhood. (She confirmed she’s confident in her ability to take care of her new son.  Prepared for raising a child, on the other hand?  She’s as much of a newbie as the rest of you who’ve been down this road.)

I’ve seen a lot of new moms, and Erin ranks among the top in post-birth radiance.  The M.A.S. and I, along with my dad and stepmom, had a great visit yesterday afternoon at the suburban hospital where Erin used to work and now delivered.  Erin is often sandwiched between too many larger-than-life personalities in our family – TK and I are two of four cousins all around the same age who generally jostle for the throne in our hierarchy. (Actually, it’s no competition – I’m a distant third to my cousin “the general” Kristen, with Tracey acting as a COO of sorts in the day-to-day operations of the fam. Our lone male cousin long ago learned to do his own thing.)  On the other side, Erin and TK’s younger sister Jane is a glamazon more than capable of holding her dazzling own as the youngest and most glitterati of the family.  Erin is thus squarely in the middle, not only of her sisters, but of our overall brood. Luke joining her and her high-school-sweetheart-husband seemed to round out their chill, solid relationship in a manner that should only ground her further in the midst of all our clannish noise and antics.  Nonetheless, my mom shipped 3 months worth of coffee to them this morning as they checked out of the hospital.

Given the span of five years between us, Erin was my cousin who bore the brunt of our torment when my friends and TK and I were growing up.  I’m pretty sure we never convinced her she was adopted, though not for any failure of effort on our part.   She knew the sex of my cousin Jane when my aunt was pregnant when the rest of us didn’t, because my aunt knew we wouldn’t believe her anyway if she told us.  Now, when my friends see or get updates on Erin, one of them never fails to utter “We’re old!” (Jane, in contrast, is nine years behind us, and proved unrecognizable to my friends when they assembled for my grandmother’s funeral in January.)

Erin is also one of many sibs and relatives of my high school friends, so her extended crew is one I still trade updates with over beers when I turn up occasionally at Braintree functions.  Erin and I went to camp together with all these peeps, and I have photos of us in matching sundresses that we picked out together for my mom’s wedding to my stepdad earlier that summer.  My college friends know her too, from when she visited me my sophmore year at Deis, and again when she crashed with me in NY after my business school graduation, where we smoked practically an entire pack of cigarettes together before taking the party back to my apartment with some of my Deis girls.  The visit to her in the hospital yesterday was one of the few other moments I got some quality time with just her.

(It was also the M.A.S. second visit to see a new baby in the hospital, after his brother was born when he was 8 and 1/2 and he turned up in his Little League uniform to visit his new sibling. Mostly what the M.A.S. remembers about this moment was that his parents bought him a present of a baseball encyclopedia to cushion the blow of the new baby).

As Erin settles in for the permanent realities of child rearing, I wonder if she’ll remember the $50 I offered her to have a boy when I learned she was pregnant.  Though the panoply of daughters my friends have churned out would indicate research is correct that fewer boys are being born, Erin, as my stepmom and I were talking about yesterday, also seems to be leading a current pack of expectant moms with baby boys on the way.  In fact, my cousins Eric (ok, his girlfriend Jody) and Claire, with their respective baby boys due,  should deliver cousins 37 and 38 later this summer.

21
Jun
07

These are the moments…

…that make me want to go into market research.

Did you know only 1 in 4 “sexual acts” involves a condom?  (I presume “sexual act” means activity that actually requires condoms, and not that we should be hanging out in them when alone or possibly just making out?) 

Pandagon takes Fox and CBS to task for refusing to air the new Trojan “Evolve” ad campaign (“use a condom every time”), but I’m much more into the idea of the condom company with 75% market share simply trying to grow the overall market for condom use.  How do you dispute that corporate agenda?  Plus you get to smirk repeatedly during the work day when employing euphemisms like “pleasure accessory.” 

The Pandagon link also has the youtube clip of the ad.  Rest assured, TK, there’s no animals dressed as people (she hates that…or is it just monkeys?)

 

PS: Big Brother is smarter than you.

21
Jun
07

A Call for Planning

On Monday, as the M.A.S. and I set out from the Hamptons to ride our three ferries back to Connecticut (that would be (South Fork-Shelter Island-North Fork-New London), I grabbed the free newsletter of the environmental advocacy organization, Group for the East End from its storefront in Bridgehampton.  On ferry ride #1, I read aloud to him from the editorial, “Growing Pains,” in which a local activist-resident warned of the risk of overdevelopment to Sag Harbor and called for

“a deliberative process conducted by both the board and the public in an atmosphere that includes a little breathing room [from speculative development].” 

“Why, it’s a call for planning!” the M.A.S. exclaimed in mock seriousness.

True ‘dat, my handsome urban planning Swede, true ‘dat.

As I prep for a trip next week to New Orleans, I’m pleased to see a similar mandate rise like a phoenix from the wreckage of the 2005 hurricane season.  The Louisiana state legislature has just passed a resolution that considers establishing a state office of planning, per public sentiment as reflected in the state-wide planning process over the last two years.  Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) has released a “Risk and Reliability Report” comparing past and future flood risk to Orleans Parish following its repairs of the levee system (Note: modest upgrades are part of these repairs, but a levee system able to withstand a 1-in-100 flood will not be in place until 2011.  Katrina was considered a 1-in-400 flood according to ACE calculations).  The head of civil works for the Corps described the report as “a good tool for planning.”  In fact, it is the only risk analysis tool of its kind made available to the public ever, giving New Orleans “‘a huge advantage’ no other city has.”  How’s that for putting New Orleans on the cutting edge for a change!

Though it often feels like there are few recovery objectives locals can agree on, modernized, sufficient levee protection is one.  Yet, rightfully so, federal Recovery Czar Don Powell and local residents acknowledge that New Orleanians will be taking the information available in the plan with a sizable “grain of salt.”  (The Army Corps blew up a portion of the levees along the Lower 9th Ward to divert water from other parts of the city during the 1927 flood.)  Powell explains, “It’s that tension…betwen trust and reality and history” that is the fundamental obstacle to using this new data. 

True ‘dat, Don, true ‘dat.

Despite the earned mistrust of the Corps and all things government down in LA, there is no denying this is an important analytical tool for residents and municipalities to have to guide their recovery decisions.  Imagine if all disaster-prone communities had similar public access to detailed risk information like this.  I’ve no doubt the government would devise a clear and easily available system for accessing such materials, likely with snappy, appealing titles like those in this report:

“Volume II. Geodetic Vertical and Water Level Datum”

and the absolute page-turner:

“Volume VI. The Performance – Interior Drainage and Pumping.”

Oh I can just see the M.A.S. and I snuggling up together tonight with a couple beers, Menino on the tube, and these excellent reading materials!

(Who am I kidding, I think the environment = BORING!  Just like space.  Absolute Dullsville.  Oh, and sporting goods stores.  Snooooze.)

21
Jun
07

Brighton Centered

Is the title of my latest link addition to the RP.

It is effectively a community record of activity around Allston-Brighton, especially updates on development, crime, politics, festivals, etc. etc.

Students from my department are working with the residential Harvard Allston task force around Harvard’s proposed expansion in their neighborhood.  Meanwhile, my immediate neighbors are organizing around BC’s planned expansion since its purchase of the Archodiocese’s St. John’s site on Comm. Ave. Tuesday night’s community meeting b/w BC and residents became particularly unruly, with one volatile resident continually disrupting the show and eventually being ejected by the police. Beyond his antics, meeting hostility also revolved around questionable tactics by the Boston Redevelopment Authority and BC reps, on whether they’re adhering to Boston’s Open Meeting Law and following all the guidelines to make meetings public and accessible. 

One thing I’ve learned from three years in an urban planning department, working in New Orleans, and dating the M.A.S. is how contentious community planning efforts are.  Quite often they are little more than dog-and-pony shows for powerful developers (institutional entities like universities, the BRA, etc. are particularly mighty) to co-opt residents into thinking they will benefit from proposed developments.  At their worst, planning processes circumvent public input almost entirely.  At best, they foment dissent from and occasionally collaboration with residents to minimize harm to the neighborhood.

I’ve written sporadically here about the changes afoot in the area; in Brighton Center, the retail transition makes it too soon to tell in which direction that neighborhood could go (though I was expectedly pessimistic about it). Meanwhile, even as rumors fly that BC is essentially turning my neighborhood into an extended playing field, the sales office for the luxury condos built on the other side of the reservoir from me is now closed, leaving me to believe that they’ve all been purchased. 

For the last week I’ve woken to the soothing sounds of chain saws leveling the trees on the property of an historic house down the street from me, recently saved from demolition by residents who were opposed to additional condos going up in the neighborhood.  The developer in that case was a small, independent entity against whom residents were relatively evenly matched (the M.A.S. even mysteriously turned up at a public meeting and made an informed speech about planning rules and regulations that was instrumental in shifting city sentiment towards preserving the property; he then disappeared into my waiting clutches).  As this point, we have no idea what’s going on across the street (my super is keeping close tabs but can’t seem to find out much), but for now the house stays, and our daily concerns over parking and congestion have not escalated. 

In contrast, development by BC appears inevitable (for anyone who’s familiar with the scale of this neighborhood, perhaps you’re as amused as I am by BC’s immediate marketing of the forthcoming site as their “Brighton campus” vs. the “Chestnut Hill campus” that is literally three minutes up and across the street).  Residential mobilization can have some effect in shaping how development unfolds, or possibly extracting some concessions from the university to maintain or even gasp – improve – our quality of life.  (The major desire of residents appears to be getting students to SHUT THE F*** UP late night, as well as to stop urinating on their lawns, and parking their cars all over the goddamn place.) 

Professional degrees are cool in that you essentially apply what you’re learning to your life as you go.  Planning, despite it being a seemingly boring profession that no one fully understands (zoning law, anyone??), and its outcast role as the red-headed stepchild to the more lucrative and glamorous development, is something that impacts anyone who doesn’t live a life of sketchy solitude in a hut in the woods.  Yet, I’ve also learned in my travels through MIT that planners are quite often as vilified as developers, recast from the red-headed stepchild to the bureaucratic enablers of the capitalist-development-liar’s plan for world domination.  Per usual, seems the education I’m getting beyond the classroom should prove far more instructive in understanding the world around me.

But, oh those credentials!

(plus I’m reading some seriously great stuff.)

 

CLICK HERE FOR A MAP of the Chestnut Hill Reservoir area in Brighton in which the St. John’s site and luxury condos are located. (Click on the “My Maps” tab and then on the “proposed development” map.)