Sunday, September 04, 2005

Houston the next model for New Orleans?

Joel Kotkin has an editorial on New Orleans in today's Sunday Los Angeles Times in which Houston figures prominently:

A NEW New Orleans

Forget crawfish étouffée -- look to ugly Houston for a vibrant economic model.

By Joel Kotkin, Joel Kotkin, an Irvine Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, is the author of "The City: A Global History" (Modern Library, 2005)

BECAUSE THE OLD New Orleans is no more, it could resurrect itself as the great new American city of the 21st century. Or as an impoverished tourist trap.


For all these reasons, New Orleans should take its destruction as an opportunity to change course. There is no law that says a Southern city must be forever undereducated, impoverished, corrupt and regressive. Instead of trying to refashion what wasn't working, New Orleans should craft a future for itself as a better, more progressive metropolis.

Look a few hundred miles to the west, at Houston — a well-run city with a widely diversified economy. Without much in the way of old culture, charm or tradition, it has far outshone New Orleans as a beacon for enterprising migrants from other countries as well as other parts of the United States — including New Orleans.

Houston has succeeded by sticking to the basics, by focusing on the practical aspects of urbanism rather than the glamorous. Under the inspired leadership of former Mayor Bob Lanier and the current chief executive, Bill White, the city has invested heavily in port facilities, drainage, sanitation, freeways and other infrastructure.

At least in part as a result of this investment, this superficially less-than-lovely city has managed to siphon industries — including energy and international trade — from New Orleans. With its massive Texas Medical Center, it has emerged as the primary healthcare center in the Caribbean basin — something New Orleans, with Tulane University's well-regarded medical school, should have been able to pull off.

I don't think Joel is suggesting that they bulldoze the French Quarter, but that the new vision for New Orleans should think of tourism as a important aspect of their city (like New York or San Francisco), but not its primary defining industry (like Orlando or Las Vegas).


At 10:23 AM, September 04, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds good to me. Will the Mayor of New Orleans get to read or hear these comments?

At 10:32 AM, September 04, 2005, Blogger Andrew said...

New Orleans should model itself after no one.
Every city in America is different. Houston and New Orleans don't have the same problems nor do the citizens act the same way. Houston is far from out of the woods herself!

What needs to happen is for the mayor, county officals, and governor to sit down and figure out how to get out of this mess.
Using knowledge and not politics.

At 10:44 AM, September 04, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Will the Mayor of New Orleans get to read or hear these comments?

I imagine that he - and many others - will be getting a *lot* of advice from the architecture and urban studies communities over the next many months and years. Kotkin has a high enough profile that I think his essays will be taken into consideration.

At 10:37 PM, September 05, 2005, Blogger Laurence said...

Hrm. Wasn't there a mayor in between Lanier and White?

So hard to remember.

At 3:56 PM, September 06, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

FYI, an email from Joel Kotkin:

"if you might, please mention that my la times piece did not call houston “ugly” or “superficially less than beautiful” and has done much to position houston in a very good light. i have gotten some knocks for this...the ugly moniker in the headline was from the editors, which i can not control."

I sympathize. Most of the time I find editors help my pieces, but every once in a while something gets twisted into a direction you didn't intend.

At 10:43 PM, September 24, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Houston is the fourth largest city in the nation, it is not ugly, and we are not back woods. We are a culturally diversed city, modern but with southern hospitality. The way we opened our arms to New Orleans no other city would have come close and didn't come close. People talk about our heat in the summer. Have you witnessed the winters in Buffalo or Chicago, the worst of two evils. I love my city, try us sometimes. We are like a Lays Potato Chip you can't eat just one.


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