Call for Ideas Lens: Equity

Statement on Smart Growth 

By Lauren Michaud Knotts


Smart Growth is defined by compact development focused on existing communities, with choices for housing and transportation, open spaces, and a distinct sense of place fostered by community collaboration and inclusion. In many ways, New Orleans has “grown smartly” and upheld these development principles since its founding 300. (In other ways, not so much.) At its founding, New Orleans was laid out in a series of geometric grids along the curving Mississippi River. The French Quarter, exemplifying walkable, mixed-use development, still exists in the original grid design from 1721. Open green spaces were preserved in Jackson Square and Congo Square, with Orleans St. providing walkable connectivity between them. New Orleans’ strong sense of place was formed by its unique relationship to and dependence on the River (with “uptown” and “downtown” serving as the city’s cardinal directions) and by the diversity of its residents, facilitated by the flow of immigrants through its port and by successive French, Spanish, and English rule -- still evident today in the city’s residents, culture, and

Geography prevented the “suburbinization” of the city until the late 1800s, when engineering advances in drainage and pumping allowed for development of adjoining lands. Canals, levees, and pumps drove the city’s growth into the 20th century, with the wealthy moving to higher ground, resulting in defacto segregation and poverty in low-lying areas. In the 1960s, suburbanization led to disinvestment in the city’s core, and in the 1970s, the city adopted a formal Growth Management Plan to outline specific land use and density configurations for the Central Business District. Plans called for an extension of I-10 to run through the French Quarter, but neighborhood activists and preservationists succeeded in preventing the elevated six-lane expressway from dividing the Quarter from the Mississippi River. 

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina flooded 80% of New Orleans, and some city recovery plans were criticized for failing to adequately engage all communities in returning to the city and to address flood-vulnerable areas. Philanthropic organizations funded the Unified New Orleans Plan, integrating various planning processes into one plan which called for a “safer, stronger, smarter city.” Demolition and redevelopment occurred for a large amount of public housing with a focus on mixed-income, mixed-use housing “to produce a safe, vibrant, economically sustainable community, which is a vast improvement over the old paradigm of concentrating families in islands of poverty (HUD 2007).”

The City’s New Orleans 2030 Plan and the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority’s commitment to investing in the core relates to many of the Smart Growth Principles, especially directing development toward existing communities. Numerous partners are engaged in important planning around affordable, attainable housing, transportation alternatives and improved connectivity, and improving the city’s resilience to storm surge and flooding. The Urban Water Plan and Resilient New Orleans have both been released in recent years, which will inform the city’s ability to adapt for future challenges and preserve a culture that’s been 300 years in the making.

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Lauren Michaud Knotts. Photograph courtesy of CPEX.

Lauren MIchaud Knotts serves as the Director of Communications for the Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX). Lauren is a Baton Rouge native with a Masters of Arts in Integrated Marketing Communication from Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts and a Bachelor of Business Administration and French from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. Before joining CPEX in March of 2016, Lauren worked for 6 years at The Emerge Center, a non-profit therapy center for children with developmental delays, where she was instrumental in executing a capital campaign and organizational rebranding. Prior to The Emerge Center, Lauren worked as Business Analyst at a non-profit focused on statewide technology-based economic development in Mississippi.

Lauren is a member of the Baton Rouge chapters of Public Relations Association of Louisiana (PRAL) and the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), on whose board she has served as Vice President of Communication and Vice President of Education. She is currently on the Board of Directors for Forward Arts. Lauren was a Development Fellow through Baton Rouge Area Foundation in 2010 and was named the Baton Rouge AFP chapter's 2012 Chamberlain Scholar.