Creating a Vibrant Public Space on the Lafitte Greenway

August 1, 2017, Feature, by Paula Jacoby-Garrett

2017 August Feature Creating a Vibrant Public Space on the Lafitte Greenway 410

Since 2008, the NRPA community has been spreading the message of the transformative value of parks by annually creating a park, or revitalizing an existing park, in an area of need through its Parks Build Community initiative. Locations of the parks correspond to NRPA’s annual conference locations. This year’s Parks Build Community project will enhance a portion of the Lafitte Greenway, located in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The Lafitte Greenway runs several miles from Armstrong Park just outside of the historic French Quarter to City Park along Lake Pontchartrain. In the past, this area was a transportation canal, bustling with people walking along the canal, visiting the local gardens and businesses. It went through a myriad of changes over the years and was eventually decimated after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

After the hurricane, local citizens and the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission (NORDC) pulled together to come up with a plan for the space. “We had the participation of the community, and through years of work and public engagement, we came up with a plan,” says Victor N. Richard III, chief executive officer of the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission.

Community members formed the Friends of Lafitte Greenway and, along with the NORDC, created a master plan for the greenway and its development. The plan calls for a multiuse transportation corridor, a linear park and the purchase of private inholdings to create a contiguous greenway. To date, installations have included a path for cyclists and pedestrians complete with lighting, shade trees, lawns, ADA-compliant crosswalks and signaling, and land has been purchased through the Trust for Public Lands. While current funding has allowed some improvements to be made, creating the greenway is an ongoing process with more improvements and funding needs to come.

Improvements to the Lafitte Greenway have resulted in revitalization of the area beyond the greenway, connecting communities and businesses in the adjacent areas and neighborhoods. “The city as a whole is ecstatic about the progression” of the greenway, Richard adds. It “meets the master plan for the entire city and the intentionality of connecting communities. For example, near the greenway is a new medical corridor that includes LSU Medical Center, the Louisiana Cancer Research Center and the new Veterans Affairs hospital. Doctors, lawyers, the everyday citizen, grandparents with their grandchildren and families are all using the greenway to walk to work or to just exercise.”

To enhance the community connection, the Friends of Lafitte Greenway have developed public programs focusing on health, nature, community and place. “Our goal is to improve opportunities for health and well-being for all New Orleans residents and Lafitte Greenway communities,” says Sophie Harris, executive director of the Friends of Lafitte Greenway. “We offer monthly…garden classes at a nearby community garden geared toward children and families and are working to advocate for and create community gardens along the Lafitte Greenway. In addition, we offer free outdoor fitness classes.

“On the Lafitte Greenway on a sunny afternoon,” Harris continues, “the trail is humming with students strolling home, families with grocery bags in hand, bikers in slacks and skirts headed one way, others with instruments on their backs passing the other way. Tourists use the Greenway as well, which is wonderful. It is great to see tourists exploring neighborhoods outside the French Quarter, riding the Greenway up to City Park and Bayou St. John, and stopping at local businesses.

“Our goal is to connect people to the Greenway and to each other,” Harris adds. “We do this through the annual Hike the Lafitte Greenway event, as well as through the Greenway Ambassadors Program — we engage area residents who become stewards of the Greenway and engage their communities to guide our work, and to co-lead our programs and events.”

For Felix Rainey, Friends of Lafitte Greenway Ambassador and lifetime community member, there have been many positive things happening in the area. “I grew up in the Lafitte area and have seen a lot of changes for the good. We used to have two parks in the 1960s, one for whites and one for blacks. Now, you see all kinds of people — blacks, whites, Mexicans — it’s like jambalaya — a mix — and I like seeing that. There’s a lot of history in the area, and people can see how far Lafitte Greenway has come when they walk along the trails.”

NRPA’s Parks Build Community project “is part of the city’s initiative to convert the 3.1-mile right of way into a greenway with publicly accessible open space, recreation areas and other amenities. At the heart of the Greenway is a bicycle and pedestrian trail that facilitates travel among diverse, adjacent neighborhoods,” says Graham Hill, an architect for Concordia. “The Lafitte Greenway vision is to provide a safe, publicly accessible open space that reflects the needs and desires of the surrounding neighborhoods.”

“For the Lafitte Greenway to be selected as a Parks Build Community was a great honor. There were many other sites and projects across the city that could have been chosen,” says Richard. The project site encompasses 15 acres on the southeast portion of the greenway between North Galvez Street and North Claiborne Avenue. The amenities to be installed — outdoor basketball courts, LED high-mast field lights, athletic fields with bleachers, open lawn for outdoor festivals and events, accessible walkways and benches, two sets of play equipment, and outdoor fitness equipment — will complement a nearby existing pool facility.

If you are planning on attending the NRPA Annual Conference in New Orleans this year, please join us for the Lafitte Greenway unveiling on September 24 and help us celebrate this historic event. There’s still time to be involved with the 2017 Parks Build Community project. It is made possible through donations of funds, materials, equipment and manpower from our NRPA community. If you would like to be involved with this year’s Parks Build Community project, please contact Gina Mullins-Cohen.

Paula Jacoby-Garrett is a Freelance Writer based in Las Vegas, Nevada.