The Old Commerce District’s infrastructure was already aged and strained pre-Katrina, and fared only worse since the storm. This has become a formidable hurdle in the path towards redevelopment.
As the City of New Orleans’ urban core, District 1 is most apt to accept increased densities to accommodate new residential, commercial and business offerings. Increasing infrastructural capabilities, especially in those areas reaching or exceeding capacity levels, will enable the necessary growth of the urban core to occur. Without an investment in the refurbishment of basic infrastructure, it will be impossible to move new development projects forward, especially given that additional dwelling units and commercial space will generate demand which the current system will be hard pressed or unable to meet. Most pronounced perhaps, are complaints about storm drains and water pressure, which are managed through a now dated and inefficient 19th Century storm sewer and water system.
The City should incrementally but aggressively pursue an infrastructural upgrade program that will make it possible to accommodate new residents and businesses. Through impact fees and other assessments, funding mechanisms for continued maintenance must be sought. In the long term, work on all services – sewer, water, lighting, etc. – should be coordinated, with elements repaired strategically in order to minimize service disruptions and recurring costs.
Of note as well are the myriad cosmetic improvements needed throughout the district. In the Old Commerce District, thoroughfares are largely in good condition; however, a thorough revamping of the paved right of way is needed in order to effectively convey the image of a desirable location for first rate development. Additionally, urban furnishings are scarce and inconsistent; thoroughfare plantings lack cohesiveness and need additional maintenance, and recent lighting replacements have been out of character with their specific neighborhoods. A lighting plan could serve as an example by tailoring its recommendations to specific neighborhoods within the greater district, noting the differences in needs for high-end and low-end tourist areas, commercial areas and residential streets and recommending fixture designs and luminosities accordingly.
The same sort of effort should also be made with street furnishings, signs and all other elements of the public right of way. From street signs to fences on parks, a comparatively small capital investment on urban furnishings would pay great dividends, especially if specific differences in various neighborhoods’ characters and needs are taken into account. Ultimately, these necessary improvements must be made pursuant to a coordinated plan that will manage ongoing maintenance and phased implementation in order to minimize disruption.
Recommendations were made to improve public right of way and civic infrastructure by upgrading storm drainage capacity, enhancing the water supply system and improving the appearance of the civic realm by upgrading street furnishings, signs and lighting while improving maintenance services.