The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

22 September 2005

Levittown in Crescent City

Rebuilding the neighborhoods in New Orleans — well, the analogy I thought of first involved Heracles cleaning out the Augean stables, but the method he used seems inapt here.

Regardless of my rhetorical non-flourishes, though, this is a daunting task. Fritz Schranck has an idea to make it a bit less daunting, based on a proven, if often derided, technique:

Levittown was one of the first, remarkably successful suburban tract development projects in the post-World War II era. It began on 1200 acres of former potato fields in Long Island, and one critical element of its success was copied all over the country — the developers offered only two basic house designs.

Over the years, the homeowners added their own improvements to these very simple homes, including additional rooms and garages. For as much as these Levittown homes looked all the same at the beginning, they certainly aren't now.

The limitations of the city's lot dimensions also suggest that a similarly simple approach to reconstruction in New Orleans would be the fastest way to bring new housing stock online.

Modular home builders could quickly set up and install the basic elements of several fundamentally New Orleans home styles, including Creole cottages, shotgun houses, camelback houses, or sidehall homes.

This time, however, these homes can be significantly improved over the ruined homes they replace, with better insulation, duct work for heat pump/air conditioning systems, and updated plumbing and electrical fixtures.

And at a significantly lower price than designing them one at a time.

This summer I visited the second Levittown, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, and if I hadn't known beforehand that all these houses were created from a handful of models, I'd never have believed it; over the past half-century, nearly every house has been modified, some only slightly, some to the point of unrecognizability.

Fans of bespoke architecture will no doubt complain on aesthetic grounds. Let them. Right now, I'm thinking that a returning resident first wants a good, solid house, and whether it looks like another one in the same block is a secondary consideration at best.

Posted at 7:53 AM to Entirely Too Cool