Recently, the New Orleans City Council was asked to approve demolition of a nearly century-old cottage in a National Historic District. According to the councilwoman for that district, Susan Guidry, it is a house that “very easily could be renovated.” Owners, who do not live or expect to live in the home, had no plans post-demolition other than a vacant lot.
Discussion of this request became a discussion of historic preservation in general, some of which I found to be alarmingly out of touch with the character and values of our city: the reasons people want to live and visit here.
Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey said, “this individual and her family have a right to their property and to do what they want with it. And we need to remember that people are more important than property.”
People/property is not an either/or situation. No one lives in a vacuum. We live in communities, especially so in New Orleans. To hold a property hostage in a high demand area without intention to maintain or sell changes the fabric of the street and affects values of all other properties. A vacant lot also deprives someone of a home and the city of property taxes. This property owner was given six months to present a plan for the property, but that punting might well mean another six months of deterioration. Since concerns with legality of the Neighborhood Conservation District Committee have pushed demolition denial appeals to the Council, it is now the front line on historic preservation.
I understand that the city has known that NCDC could be challenged and simply caved to any lawsuits appealing demolition denial. That means that anyone opposed to a demolition could spend years traipsing downtown to judgment and NCDC meetings, to find it all a complete waste of time. Due process did not exist, as my neighbors and I found out in our efforts to save the home at 820 General Pershing St., now a vacant lot.
I wholeheartedly agree with Councilman James Gray’s comment: “I think we’ve torn down way too many buildings in the city of New Orleans.” In its strengthened position on historic preservation, I would hope that the City Council would carefully consider before throwing away our historic architecture.