One of the mantras of post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans has been to not just rebuild, but to rebuild better and smarter. To get a sense of how this can play out, just take a walk through the newly restored and thoroughly rethought Rosa F. Keller branch of the New Orleans Public Library system.
Located in the heart of Broadmoor, a neighborhood that was devastated by post-Katrina flooding and has been directing its own impressive recovery, the Keller branch is a 21st-century library designed – or redesigned – to also serve as a community center.
There are plenty of books here, but also classrooms for literacy and computer courses, meeting spaces for community groups, a demonstration kitchen for cooking classes and even a coffee shop, the Green Dot Café.
All of this is found in a structure that melds both the old and the new. The library uses its original, pre-Katrina structure – an historic home dating to 1917, which is now fused with a new contemporary wing. Throughout, the new library is designed for low environmental impact and high resistance to future storms.
LaToya Cantrell, president of the Broadmoor Improvement Association, says that prior to Katrina the neighborhood had a “mediocre library at best,” but with support from foundation funders the group was “able to dream big” for its replacement.
“We have a dedicated community, but that community requires a neutral place to meet, learn and share,” she says. “That’s what this represents and will provide, and it’s something that everyone in New Orleans needs and deserves.”
Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York, which donated $2 million for the project, called it “an inspiring example of a community seizing the initiative to restore and rebuild what Hurricane Katrina took away.”
Other examples have sprouted up around New Orleans as the library system’s rebuilding push continues. In March, the same month the Keller site reopened, the city unveiled new branches in Gentilly and Lakeview while a branch in eastern New Orleans was scheduled to open in April and an Algiers branch is expected by the summer. Like the Broadmoor example, each incorporates green building features, community space and technology.