We are headed south to the Big Easy for our eighth annual Parks Build Community project at Lafitte Greenway. Each year, NRPA chooses a site in the host city of our annual conference to conduct a Parks Build Community project. An existing park in need of revitalization is restored or a new park is created in an area of high need. This year, NRPA is headed to New Orleans, and a portion of the Lafitte Greenway will undergo renovations to provide a public space where residents can gather and play.
A Long History
Located in the heart of New Orleans between the historic areas of the French Quarter and City Park, Lafitte Greenway has a long history as a transportation and recreation corridor. It was originally part of the Indian trading route between Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River. In 1795, the Carondelet Canal (also known as the Old Basin Canal) was constructed to transport boats from Lake Pontchartrain, through another canal to the French Quarter. The canal also served to drain the swamps in the area allowing for more development.
During this time, there was a walking path along the canal called Carondelet Walk which was later named Lafitte Street. The Carondelet Walk was well used and enjoyed by many. Beautiful gardens aligned a portion of the walk. Mules pulled barges filled with people along the canal to Lake Pontchartrain for a day’s visit and boats transported goods, such as cotton, tobacco and wood, along the canal.
In the 1920s, “it was clear that the Carondelet Canal was of no real practical use” (gonola.com) and the canal was converted into a storm drainage system by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). By 1938, the canal was filled in. Railroads soon took the role of the canal, providing a transportation route, and ran until the 1960s when automobiles became the preferred mode of transportation. A lack of business resulted in vacant buildings and an overall decline in the area by the 1980s.
Revitalization After the Storm
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Touted as one of the deadliest and costly hurricanes in U.S. history, it had a devastating effect on the Lafitte Greenway, damaging infrastructure, buildings and the community gardens that had been in existence since the 1940s.
In 2006, local community members were concerned about the area and how it would be revitalized after the hurricane. They joined forces and created the Friends of Lafitte Greenway. This active group has been working tirelessly since the mid-2000s to create amenities along the greenway, enhance economic development, and encourage community and active lifestyles for all ages.
Today, “the Lafitte Greenway is a public amenity,” managed by the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission (NORDC). Friends of Lafitte Greenway is a community-driven nonprofit organization, composed of more than 400 members and over 600 volunteers, that works in close partnership with the city to build, program and promote the Lafitte Greenway as a great public space,” says Sophie Harris, executive director of the Friends of Lafitte Greenway.
“The Lafitte Greenway runs through the heart of New Orleans, connecting six neighborhoods. Over 13,000 people lived within a quarter mile of the Greenway in 2010, and we expect that this number is higher today. In 2017, an average of 866 cyclists used the Greenway daily for transportation and recreation (UNO Transportation Institute). The Greenway is an integral part of our transportation network, serves local transportation needs, provides vital community space to play and exercise for New Orleanians,” explains Harris.
“The site is unique; it runs straight down the city and connects the French Quarter to City Park,” says Victor N. Richard III, chief executive officer of NORDC. The Lafitte Greenway is part of an overall citywide master plan called the Plan for the 21st Century: New Orleans 2030. Adopted in 2010, the plan calls for historic and cultural preservation, vibrant neighborhoods, green infrastructure, sustainable transportation options and urban agriculture, among other points. The greenway fits into the city’s master plan by providing a transportation corridor, garden classes, outdoor health and recreation opportunities.
Building Out Lafitte Greenway
To date, the Lafitte Greenway is on its way to meeting its own master plan objectives. Private lands were acquired, in part through a grant from the Trust for Public Lands, to bring back the full length of the greenway to the public. A 2.6-mile asphalt trail for pedestrians and bicyclists has been created and is extensively used. Recreation fields and landscaping improvements, including approximately 500 shade trees and areas with native plants, have been included in the greenway. Lighting was added to the trail, and ADA-compliant curbs and crosswalks were added at each road crossing.
Improvements so far have gone beyond the greenway and attracted new businesses, such as restaurants and housing developments, to the area. This is sparking a revitalization and buzz that the area has not seen in a long time. While the greenway has made much progress, there is still more development to occur to fully build out this space.
“The greenway was a brainchild of the entire community, and they are ecstatic about its progress. The multipurpose amenities, open green spaces, mixed-use areas and different types of programming are having a positive effect on citizens’ lives. Everyone is extremely excited and proud of the progress. It was a great honor for the Lafitte Greenway to be selected for the Parks Build Community Program,” says Richard.
As with all Parks Build Community projects, the renovations and transformation are made possible through the donation of materials, equipment, manpower and funds from our NRPA community. A tour of the new park facilities will be conducted on September 24, 2017, during the annual conference in New Orleans. If you would like to be involved with this year’s Parks Build Community project, please contact Gina Mullins-Cohen at 703.858.2184. Stay tuned for more information on the progress of Lafitte Greenway!
Paula Jacoby-Garrett is a Freelance Writer based in Las Vegas, Nevada.