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Reclaiming the Neutral Ground: New Construction and Healing in New Orleans

Urban highways were never a good idea. Now, as cities all over the world look to somehow ex-fill the big, tall, hulking roads that ploughed through their communities fifty years ago, the U.S. faces a reckoning. While the pandemic-stalled re-populating of America’s largest metropolitan areas has at least temporarily dulled the lure of city living and working for some and the country is forced to face its racist past and present, the billions of dollars needed to take a hard, serious look at getting rid of our worst city highways has, incongruously, appeared. Hopefully, a torrent of federal dollars will begin the long overdue work needed to address the harm road building wrought on communities of color and to start the healing process. This project takes the position that new building is key to healing, that repairing the damage from elevated highways or urban renewal schemes can’t happen without construction. One place where this is particularly true is North Claiborne in New Orleans. Like many neighborhoods in many cities it saw its business district, overwhelmingly African American, wiped out by an interstate. Over the decades, as the full scope of the damage done by the highway became clear, the community mobilized behind the possibility of removing the I-10 and re-building the at grade boulevard and tree-lined neutral ground that once ran through Treme and the Seventh Ward. Reclaiming the Neutral Ground picks up a this point. Taking I-10’s removal as a given, the project proposes to turn a series of off-ramps into a campus dedicated to high skilled, vocational building arts training meant to literally create the knowledge needed to heal the built environment. A new home for the New Orleans Notorial Archives, a key resource in the sensitive work of historic preservation and restoration, and a public market will anchor the site with alternate programming.

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