Why Charity Hospital Matters
Charity Hospital in New Orleans was one of the oldest continuously operating hospitals in the world until it was closed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Over the years, Charity has become an essential and irreplaceable medical and community institution. The Charity Hospital mission to provide top-notch affordable health care to the citizens of New Orleans is as critical as ever, as the lack of reliable health care continues to be one of the city’s biggest challenges since Hurricane Katrina. The doctors and nurses who stayed at the hospital through the storm and quickly
restored it for returning residents embodied the core principles on which Charity was founded. The decision to keep the building shuttered remains one of the most controversial decisions of the post-storm period. Charity Hospital, the second largest hospital in the country, cradled the births of hundreds of thousands of New Orleans babies, including nearly all of the great musicians, artists, and characters for which this city is most beloved. Memorialized in literature, song, and soul, Charity Hospital is a ubiquitous icon. There is no hospital in the country that means as much to the population it serves as Charity Hospital right here in New Orleans. The proposed LSU/VA medical complex would permanently abandon Charity Hospital, leaving one of the most beautiful buildings in the city to sit blighted with no plans for reuse.
Why Lower Mid-City Matters
Lower Mid-City is a historic neighborhood and a cultural crossroads that will be demolished to make way for the proposed LSU/VA medical complex, should it move forward without compromise. Throughout its existence, the neighborhood has been a cultural crossroads. Part of Mid City, a National Register Historic District, Lower Mid-City was home to many German and other composers, musicians, music teachers and music publishers who built their homes in this area in the mid-to-late 19th century. The area was adjacent to the neighborhood where Louis Armstrong was born and raised, as well as the historic Creole neighborhood of Faubourg Tremé. The interplay of European brass bands with African American music in New Orleans has long bee identified as a key ingredient in the birth of jazz. Though the neighborhood was amongst the many that flooded during Hurricane Katrina, its resilient residents returned to rebuild. Though they devoted time, money, heart and soul into their community, when Lower Mid-City became a possible location for a vast LSU/VA suburban style hospital campus, the city erected roadblocks that made it nearly impossible for residents to continue investing in their homes and neighborhood. The City ceased to allow any building permits for the area. The new development requires the forcible buyout of homeowners and represents a critical crucible for testing the rights of individual property owners and neighborhoods to determine their own fate.
Why Downtown New Orleans Matters
The Art Deco Charity Hospital building has anchored New Orleans’ downtown medical and commercial district since 1939. Before Katrina and especially after, the Central Business District has struggled to bolster commercial tenancy. Many businesses have remained shuttered or relocated elsewhere. With office occupancy down, many businesses are struggling to survive with a dwindling customer base. Other historic commercial downtowns around the country have seen an influx of young residents and businesses as environmental and planning best practices and the increased desirability of rich cultural experiences point toward a renewed emphasis on the quality of urban life. New Orleans has a dense urban core rare for this region of the country and is uniquely positioned to take advantage of national trends favoring cities with similarly robust pedestrian infrastructure. Thus, it is important to emphasize the importance of restoring commerce and population to downtown New Orleans. The proposed LSU/VA medical complex would spread resources out of downtown New Orleans to create a suburban-style campus that represents an inefficient land use policy reminiscent of the worst excesses of 1980s sprawl. The restoration of hustle and bustle to downtown New Orleans is one of this city’s most critical economic priorities over the next generation. The LSU/VA plan, which would destroy a vital downtown neighborhood and displace its residents, is a deeply flawed, grossly misguided and conceptually dated proposal that threatens the vitality and sustainability of downtown New Orleans.