At the most recent meeting of the Louisiana chapter of the Urban Land Institute, two back-to-back presentations highlighted how “new urbanism” can transform huge (over 1,000,000 square feet) buildings into vibrant centers of urban life. The speakers showed how this unique kind of urban development has already taken place in Memphis and how it is expected (hoped) to take place in New Orleans.
 

Urban Development Memphis: Crosstown Concourse 

 
In Memphis, a huge Sears Roebuck warehouse and distribution facility lay abandoned for many years. Approximately 10 stories high, it sprawled horizontally over 17 acres. Its transformation was based on the vision of two people whose concentration was art and music, not real estate development.
 
The development today, known as Crosstown Concourse, is based on a theme of music, art and wellness with housing and workspace for people in the visual and performing arts, and with live performance spaces sprinkled throughout the building. There are 250 apartment units on the upper four floors, and the lower floors house a medical clinic, retail stores, healthy food outlets, restaurants, and artist spaces.
 
All of the activities that would normally take place outside in a neighborhood, take place in the interior of the building. There are meeting places, play spaces, and wide promenades, along with several atria that bring light and airiness into the interior. The building was huge, allowing the developers to create corridors wide enough to accommodate both pedestrians and bicycles. You can bike from your apartment to the grocery.
 
It has become a small town inside a formerly abandoned warehouse and distribution facility.
 

Urban Development New Orleans: Charity Hospital

 
The same type of vibrant urban community is envisioned for the former Charity Hospital in New Orleans. This time, the building of over 1,000,000 square feet rises vertically, rather than sprawling out horizontally, and this time, the theme is based around education and health.
 
To draw people into the 32-floor structure, the developers envision wide and inviting courtyards and promenades. Inside, terraces and gardens built on the rooftops of the floors below will provide “open space” where people will congregate.
 
The developers hope to attract Tulane University and also plan to house a local high school or middle school, and they are planning additional education programs and workshops that will fill the building with interested and curious people trying to expand their horizons.
 
As with the Crosstown development in Memphis, the repurposed Charity Hospital development hopes to find itself as a mini city-center, filled with people at all hours and from all walks of life.
 
The Crosstown development, just 400 miles upriver from New Orleans, lends support to the idea that the Charity Hospital development can be a rousing success.