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American Society of Landscape Architects


March 2007 Issue

Visions of Green
What role will parks and open space play in a rebuilt New Orleans?

By Jennifer Zell

Visions of Green Hargreaves Associates

The battle against nature to establish culture is as old as civilization. If the seemingly endless job of rebuilding a declining, subsiding city appears futile, history proves the struggle has been going on since communities have been formed. New Orleanians and groups of architects, landscape architects, and planners have spent the past year wrestling with how to rebuild the Crescent City, with few visions making it off the drafting board.

A sustainable and green model is the foundation for a smarter and potentially less vulnerable Crescent City. “New Orleans will be a sustainable, environmentally safe, socially equitable community with a vibrant economy,” declared the Bring New Orleans Back (BNOB) Commission urban planning committee’s “Action Plan for New Orleans: The New American City,” presented in January 2006 and adopted by Mayor Ray Nagin. When the corresponding parks and open-space plan was presented to the public, dashed green circles on the diagram indicated large “areas for future parkland,” or what became known as the “big green dots”—ominous circles superimposed on the city map over the very homes and neighborhoods many of the residents hoped to return to. This plan to reduce the footprint of the city and turn some parts of it into new parks or open space was resoundingly rejected by the mayor and New Orleanians, prompting city officials to adopt a laissez-faire approach to planning.

Against the recommendations in the Urban Land Institute report New Orleans, Louisiana: A Strategy for Rebuilding and that of the BNOB Commission, Nagin allowed permits to be issued for construction anywhere in the city. At the same time, according to a report in the local Times-Picayune newspaper, officials were offering warnings that home owners in areas slow to recover “might not be eligible for federal and state assistance, only limited municipal services might be offered, flooding could occur, and property values could plummet.”

“I am waiting to see what will happen in my neighborhood,” says Detroit Brooks of Gentilly. “I had 11 feet of water in my house. The levees have not been prepared and there are a lot of foundation problems in my area, so I am just at this moment waiting.” A musician, Brooks travels frequently and says he has not been able to participate in community planning meetings.

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