Squandered Heritage Vintage

Restoration Economy

The City of Phoenix is misnamed. It can’t rise from its ashes until it is reduced to ashes. In developmental terms it’s a rapidly-growing baby (or maybe a cancer). The Real Phoenix is New Orleans–reduced to ashes (and mud) and about to be reborn into something better.

The cynic in you (and aren’t we all cynics now) shrugs, or is even annoyed at such optimism. Since Katrina I have cycled through dispair and disbelief, to Eureka (“this changes everything!”), to a gradual erosion of hope, marked by a few optimistic spikes (the election of a new City Council). But I don’t think it’s too late for something good to happen here. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe that.

So who is to put us back together again? All the king’s horses and all the king’s men came too late, with too little. And Fearless Leader C-Ray is either AWOL or hiding behind a veil of tortured words signifying nothing (“market forces”).

Obviously, we must do the heavy lifting on our own (before we have to say “the market forced us…”). But there is help out there.

Ideas are helpful. Last night ideas were flying at City Hall. No one from the government was there. But in council chambers Mr. Storm Cunningham , of the Revitalization Institute, presented a very interesting and motivational slide lecture, sponsored by AIA New Orleans.

–Subject: The $2 trillion “restoration economy”.
–Idea: NOLA has the potential to be a world leader in this industry.

Phoenix, and rapidly growing metros like it, are actually part of a declining trend. Sprawling growth is, like, so 20th century.

21st Century trend: Restoration, repair and maintenance of what already exists. Lord knows there is a lot of restoration and repair to be done–here and everywhere else. Even before Katrina there was a critical need. K just time-warped the decay of our infrastructure and institutions forward a few decades.

Our opportunity: Create an integrated network of private companies, universities, government agencies and citizen groups that have the restoration of our City and region as its primary product. Then use the experience gained to do similar work in the rest of the world. We don’t need the next Toyota plant to boost our economy. We can boost our economy by rebuilding our City and region–if we do it with the idea that we are growing an industry at the same time.

Pie in the sky? Heard it before? Maybe. But the Revitalization Institute is one top of this idea and ready to help, through workshops and the application of other resources.

–Obstacle #1: Lack of leadership.

It would be best if all 4 local stakeholders (citizens, academia, private sector and government) were together on a goal like this. UNO is already a Revitalization Institute partner, as is Carrollton-Audubon Renaissance, Inc. That’s a start.

Sadly, I don’t expect anything out of the Mayor’s office. But maybe he will pleasantly surprise us, someday.

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  • Thanks for attending that session. That is teh kind of information that makes me think things might be ok. Now if we could just get Ray to go to work.

  • Ray Nichols

    The AIA sponsored session was part of Storm Cunningham’s third trip to Louisiana since Katrina. On earlier trips, he presented at UNO, UL Lafayette, UL Monroe and CityWorks. UNO, CityWorks, Carrollton-Audubon Renaissance, Inc. and Villavaso and Associates have affiliated with the Revitalization Institute. Storm plans to return for a lecture series at Tulane – to be scheduled.

    Gambit also covered the AIA presentation:


    When we approached the Orleans Parish School Board on Oct. 28, 2005 to obtain a charter for Priestley School of Architecture and Construction, I emphasized Storm’s concept of “The Warsaw Effect”.

    After WW II, Warsaw was devastated. 8000 Poles were trained as skilled artesians and rebuilt the historic areas of the city. They then went on to rebuild other European cities. The money they sent home kick started the Polish economy. Storm and I have been emphasizing our opportunity to become the “Silicon Valley” of the “Restoration Economy” – quite possibly the biggest growth opportunity of the 21st century.

    Storm’s book, The Restoration Economy, elaborates on these issues.


    Ray Nichols
    Board of Directors
    Priestley School of Architecture and Construction

  • Ray,

    Thanks for visiting Squandered Heritage. We were hoping that in illuminating the plight of our endagered housing stock it would naturally flow into the larger concept of worker training and the need for “old style” Trades people to renovate and reoccupy our homes.

    We would have a much healthier City with a Restoration Economy built upon the strengths of our housing stock than if we turned to the vision of gambling and tourism.

    I know one woman on Palmer Park who is on a waiting list for her plasterer, who has a back log of work OUTSIDE the United States.

    My Dad was a lather and when he left the union 30 years ago in Massachusettes he was the last man standing. I have offten wondered if people even know what is behind the plaster in their homes?


  • Ray Nichols

    The Preservation Trades Network is meeting this week in New Orleans. Lisa Sasser, President, PTN, invites interested parties to attend. Registration fees have been waived for this year’s New Orleans conference. More info is available at:


    Priestley students will be attending several workshops during the conference and we are exploring opportunities for a continuing relationship.

    From the PTN site:

    IPTW 2006
    The International Preservation Trades Workshop is the only annual event in North American which brings the foremost practitioners of the traditional trades together in a single venue dedicated to sharing the skills and knowledge of all of the trades employed in conservation of the built environment. Learn how you can help Restore Community Heritage in New Orleans.

    Members of this group may be interested in the downloadable Brief Guide to Understanding Repairs to Historic Homes under the Hurricane Katrina button on the site.

    Ray Nichols

  • J Stratton

    Thanks for your comments and the info about the PTN workshops, which will be focused in the Holy Cross neighborhood through Saturday.
    I was thrilled when I learned about the Priestley School and its mission because I love the architecture of New Orleans and I live in a 100+ year old house not far from the future Priestley campus, which has been a vast eyesore for far too long. I hope more kids and parents wake up to the rare opportunity that Priestley represents.
    J Stratton