My wife and I recently visited Oaxaca, Mexico. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the city is famous for its pre-Columbian ruins, colonial architecture and indigenous culture. In a few years, it may also be recognized for its outstanding roads. Every other street in the historic center — an area three times the size of the French Quarter — was being completely overhauled.
Working around the clock, an army of engineers, preservationists, masons, and day laborers made steady, remarkable progress.
Based on the attention paid to the subsurface and the reams and reams of rebar being used, it was obvious that the new roads were being built to last, as well.
They were also extraordinarily beautiful. Finished with either formed and scored concrete or traditional cobblestones, they actually complemented the surrounding buildings. During the trip, we found ourselves spending almost as much time admiring the roadwork as we did the other attractions.
Unfortunately, back home in New Orleans, the same cannot be said. While the city is undertaking equally ambitious street improvements, the work is anything but efficient, thorough or aesthetically pleasing. Here, projects often languish for months; streets that were resurfaced only a few years ago are already scarred with cracks and potholes; and, it almost goes without saying, ribbons of splotchy asphalt don’t exactly complement the city’s striking architecture and trees. (By the way, we didn’t see a single bright yellow sidewalk ramp in Oaxaca.)
Before breaking more ground, city planners might want to venture down to Mexico for a few lessons from — and for — the road.