If there is anyplace in America that can benefit from what is somewhat obscurely called “place-based zoning,” it is New Orleans.
That is because much of New Orleans is laid out along lines set by water — the river and Lake Pontchartrain, mainly — and most of its desirable real estate is based on the pre-World War II model of traditional cities.
With the coming of cars and traditional zoning, much of postwar America found itself zoned into subdivisions instead of neighborhoods, with the idea of separating residential blocks from commercial buildings. That served the purpose of providing single-family homes for the postwar “baby boom,” but it did not help preserve the more complex interaction of people that have been facilitated for centuries by traditional city planning.
Now, of course, “new urbanism” — or more correctly, the older pre-Interstate organization of communities — is all the rage. Many cities are working on similar “smart growth” concepts in planning and zoning, including Baton Rouge and Lafayette.
New Orleans adopted a master plan for growth in 2010, and the zoning ordinance now under consideration has been subsequently developed by the City Planning Commission.
The final draft goes before the commission this month and then to the City Council.
The draft can be reviewed on the commission’s website, www.nola.gov/cpc.
It’s worth a look, as it puts down into the broader sweep of the master plan a pile of the nitty-gritty issues that involve property — setbacks and height limits, landscaping and parking, operational rules and regulations. Any one of those things can become matters of heated controversy, as recent New Orleans battles over particular projects in the city demonstrate.
The good news is that since the 2011 presentation of the first zoning plan, thousands of residents have provided input, either through written comments or at public meetings.
We think that provides some momentum for this particular ordinance. But the overall philosophy of the change is what is so particularly relevant to New Orleans.
Our city is renowned in this country for its unique landscape, part of its unique cultural allure. But to preserve it is not enough; the city needs to grow in the coming years, and the master plan, the new zoning ordinance as part of it, is intended to make growth compatible with the landscape we have all grown up with.
That will not mean an end to controversy, but it should make possible more people sharing in the glories of this city, with homes and businesses that fit into its fabric instead of rending it.