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URO LAB 4: Occupying Urban Seams

The fourth URO Lab will examine the ‘urban seams’ which both separate and integrate New Orleans’ neighborhoods, focusing on the contested nature of the highway underpass between an expanding Central Business District and historic Central City.

While urban seams can develop as commercial corridors that stitch together adjacent residential neighborhoods, or recreational green spaces alongside transit, they also refer to the scars of 1960s bridge and highway development which divided neighborhoods in New Orleans and in cities throughout the United States. The resulting linear, liminal public spaces have met with contention and inspired various mitigating solutions, including removal, across the country. In New Orleans, they have contributed to the separation of neighborhoods, enjoyed use as community or culturally “claimed” space, and often serve as the location for a portion of the city’s homeless population.

A multitude of urban orders are influential within urban seams, certainly when occupied by the city’s homeless, and further when they dictate the character and limits of the relationship between two neighborhoods: the legality of occupation and citizens’ claims to public space; the municipal practice of homeless “sweeps” which clear or shift encampments following complaints or in anticipation of national sporting events (New Orleans is frequently host to Super Bowls and major tournaments); inconsistent policy enforcement and policing; homeless culture, territory, and pan-handling; crime; both public and private economic development priorities; etc.

The Mississippi River Bridge/LA-90 overpass creates an urban seam which doubles as the front door to Central City, a neighborhood at the intersection of converging cultural, political, and economic forces in present day New Orleans. It lies directly adjacent to the economic engine of downtown and serves as one of the city’s important cultural producers, yet has long struggled economically. Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard (formerly Dryades Street) provided a primarily Jewish-owned commercial hub for the neighborhood and city’s African American population, particularly during segregation, when downtown vendors would not serve black clientele. After a decades-long decline, renewed public and private investment along the Boulevard has raised debate about its character, usership, and direction.

Stakeholders along this seam include cultural and youth-serving non-profits, neighborhood groups, and leaders who kept the OCH corridor alive through decades of commercial decline. The City of New Orleans has an interest in building the cultural economy that drives all-important tourism, and has also located its Redevelopment Authority headquarters within the study area. In addition, small business owners, residents, developers, and institutions including Tulane’s Small Center play a role in shaping the future of the area.

URO Lab 4 will focus on several broad research questions, an investigation of which will be explored in small working groups:

  • What are the observable orders governing New Orleans’ contested urban seams?
  • Who are the stakeholders and how do their actions contribute to the contested nature of urban seams?
  • What policy, design, or civic actions have determined the nature of these spaces, and what else might be considered?

Day 1:

Topic and team introductions, orientation; site visits; initial group discussions, public forum

Day 2:

Expanded information gathering from neighborhood leaders, developers, and others who shape public space; visiting other occupied seams; group discussion of findings

Day 3:

Final discussion and presentation of findings