group effort

Soon after the floodwaters receded in New Orleans' Broadmoor neighborhood two years ago, Kurt Hagstette, AIA, emerged in a new role: that of helping its residents reclaim their historic community. The city had hired the Urban Land Institute to assess what should be done with the area's storm-damaged buildings, and the recommendation—that Broadmoor be bulldozed as a floodplain—roused the community to action. As head of the Broadmoor Improvement Association's Urban Planning Subcommittee, Hagstette helped steer the residents—some 7,000 strong—toward a recovery plan.

With help from Harvard and MIT students the following summer, he led community members through a series of charrettes that clarified the historic value of what they had. It turned out that most of the buildings, which date to 1910, were fixable, and so the renewal efforts began to focus on the Rosa F. Keller Library and Community Center, a branch of the New Orleans Public Library.

“The library was a metaphor for the neighborhood in terms of retaining its character and historic value,” says Hagstette, an associate at Eskew+Dumez+Ripple. The tweaked floor plans create space for a coffee shop and multipurpose rooms, and there's talk of “greening” the building with solar panels and a rainwater-retention system. “We changed the focus of the building from a totally subdued place to one that attracts the young and old,” he says. “The best thing I did was to suggest things that people weren't thinking about. When you approach a problem, you look at all the possibilities, you test each of those as a model, and from that comes a solution. A lot of times people know what works but have a hard time getting there.”

By the time Hurricane Katrina's first anniversary rolled around, the plans had been adopted into the city recovery plan. The community association has also raised the building funds and is negotiating with the city to proceed. “What we're very proud of is that this was an effort that came from the bottom up rather than the top down, because there was nothing coming from the top down,” Hagstette says.

“A lot can be accomplished with guidance from experienced professionals,” he continues. “All that expertise drawn from a two-mile radius—attorneys, businesspeople, social workers, educators—combines into something pretty powerful.”