Saturday, July 16, 2011

Development & Density?

No thanks. By failing to approve a new mixed use, high density urban development, the "preservationists" would rather keep Canal Street's "historical character" of boarded up buildings, shut down hotels, shoe shops, and faux-voodoo tourist kitsch.

That's a shame for a streetscape that should be one of the bustling, dynamic, walkable commerical avenues of the Southeastern United States.

Wide streets can be fronted by tall buildings, that's one of the way urban design is supposed to work. I find the complaints of this building's height to be baseless. There are plenty of other buildings on that streetscape of that height, and they work because they front Canal.

Historical character? The building design does look "modern" in the aspect that it appears to use state of the art building design and materials. While this may not fit perfectly with the rest of the street towards the river, it isn't like this is some concrete-block monstrosity or post-modern experiment going in on that street.

As for the building it is replacing, it is a ramshackle low rise with a boarded up first floor covered in graffiti and posters. There is a need here to balance historical character with needed economic expansion. You'll be more able to preserve the historical character of other buildings and this part of the city as a whole if it is part of a working, dynamic downtown economy.

In other words, the Saenger Theatre, the Lowe's Theatre, and the Broadway South concept for that intersection isn't going to work if the theatres have no economic support nearby. If the University Medical Center ever does get built, people who work there could live in this building and walk to work, increasing the value of properties between this location going up Canal Street - an area that desperately needs commerical dollars.

And the folks making these decisions need to look up the definition of "leverage." They have some leverage in that a location like this on Canal Street should be quite valuable. But that knowledge needs to temptered with the reality that a location like this on Canal Street currently isn't as valuable as it could be, because of a lack of developers willing to take a risk of locating there.

Because, while the location has the potential to be very valuable based on the proximity of planned theatres and hospitals, those planned theatres and hospitals aren't yet done deals. Going ahead with developments of this nature assist the critical mass required for those projects to be successful. Otherwise, you'll end up stuck with the street the way it is now.


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