A Rusty Bridge and a Changing Neighborhood in New Orleans

Officially designated the Piety Bridge, named after the street at whose southern end it rises, this structure in New Orleans underwent a rite of passage common to many monumental public structures and sculptures: locals decided to call it something else. The decade-old foot bridge, which crosses freight rail tracks to link the neighborhood of the Bywater to the city's riverfront Crescent Park, is often called the "Rusty Rainbow" in everyday conversation.

Part of a multi-phase riverfront redevelopment effort envisioned prior to Katrina and launched in earnest following the devastating storm, Crescent Park takes up space formerly occupied by the Piety Street Wharf and adjacent industrial properties. It begins just outside the tourist-filled French Quarter in Faubourg Marigny, and continues east for about a mile into the Bywater, ending at the still-operational Poland Street Wharf container terminal.

The process to create Crescent Park, led by the public New Orleans Building Corporation with a team of internationally known architects and landscape architects coordinated by local firm Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, sought to find new use from a disused and damaged industrial property while allaying some residents' fears of exploitative or inequitably beneficial new development after the hurricane. The final vision for the property, which features lushly installed indigenous plants and retains portions of concrete and metal structures from the former wharf, was settled upon in consultation with the public through an initiative called "Reinventing the Crescent". It was billed as an employment generator, both in construction jobs and eventual tourism revenue, as well as a sorely needed public space in an area without many large public parks.

Though steps were taken to build a shared vision for the space that became Crescent Park, rapid and destabilizing changes to New Orleans' housing market in the last decade have caused some residents to implicate Crescent Park and its structures in the fuzzy category of gentrification. In much of New Orleans, housing costs have skyrocketed in recent years and loss of long-term housing to short-term vacation rentals in neighborhoods near the Quarter is a thorny local issue over which many legislative and legal battles have been fought. The Bywater, in particular, is significantly more expensive to rent or buy in now than it was five years ago. The Rusty Rainbow bridge, whose intentionally oxidized design is attributed primarily to the firm of David Adjaye (the onetime star architect who has since been accused of sexual misconduct and hostile working conditions by former employees), is occasionally host to spray paint messages that draw a direct connection between its existence and displacement in the Bywater and Marigny. These areas' path toward significant new private real estate investment and desirability among monied newcomers began before Katrina, but it ramped up significantly after 2005 and has taken on ever more upmarket characteristics along the way.

Simultaneously, frustration has mounted over the City of New Orleans' stewardship of a massive former military facility a bit further east down the waterfront, which has fallen into severe disrepair since closing in 2011 and coming under control of the city in 2014. Different local stakeholders have complicated relationships with and reactions to the city's efforts on the riverfront, the evolving vision for riverfront properties under public control, and the current state of different sites impacted by that vision. Crescent Park was the result of a shared process, but that does not mean there is one broadly shared vision for the future of this part of New Orleans.