Science - March 31, 2010

Living with water in New Orleans

Three Wageningen MSc students have designed a Dutch-style 'water city' for New Orleans.

A street in New Orleans before and after the Dutch metamorphosis.
Peter Hermens, Jaap van der Salm and Chris van der Zwet drew up designs for New Orleans that show how the city could live with water and enjoy it. The three recent Landscape architecture graduates achieved an exceptional grade 9 for their dissertation A working landscape for New Orleans. More than four years after hurricane Katrina, low-lying areas of New Orleans are still a mess. Roads are damaged, thirty percent of the population has not returned and seven out of ten trees are gone. The Wageningen students describe it as a 'perforated city', stripped and shabby. Katrina was a one-off event, but even a little rain causes problem, as the old drainage system cannot cope and is in need of an overhaul. All in all, a perfect challenge for a group of Dutch landscape architects. The core of their solution is 'the working landscape', which Van der Salm describes as 'a landscape that works for people, because it solved their water problems, and on them, as it inspires them and makes it possible to live with the water'.
A water neighbourhood is old hat to the Dutch, but for Americans it's a whole new concept. The city's waterways are now hidden underground and enclosed behind concrete walls the height of a man, with the idea of getting rid of water as fast as possible.
The Wageningers make water visible with a new set of waterways that not only improve the storage and drainage of water, but turn it into a feature.
The question is, of course, whether the American will want to do this. Hermens has high hopes. 'In the Masterplan 2030 for New Orleans, this sort of ambition is mentioned. So some of our ideas for translating the ambitions into spatial plans have already made their mark.'

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