Editor's Note: In 2014, we've talked a lot with readers about how New Orleans has changed in the nine-and-a-half years since Hurricane Katrina — for better and for worse. "The New New Orleans" has been on Gambit's cover twice, and for the third installment of this series, we're taking a look at a project that encompasses many of the city's changes — social, geographical, environmental and economic: the Lafitte Greenway.
The idea for the Lafitte Greenway, a 2.6-mile linear park that will run through the heart of New Orleans from Mid-City to Armstrong Park at Basin Street, began after Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures in 2005. For the past eight years, a group of dedicated residents called Friends of Lafitte Corridor (FOLC) has been lobbying and raising money for a park that rides along the old Mid-City railroad tracks.
This spring, that vision will become a reality, after a handful of false starts and groundbreaking delays frustrated both neighbors and stakeholders. But with more than 70 percent of the asphalt down and a set of plans that includes football and soccer fields, a biking and walking path, planting local flora and installing drinking fountains and benches, the Greenway is well on its way, though the city still does not know who will manage this unprecedented project on a parcel of public land.
Director of Public Works Mark Jernigan says the hours of the park, or whether the city will even enforce hours (the way it does for, say, the year-old Crescent Park in Bywater, which closes at 6 p.m. nightly), will be "determined as part of the operational plan for the Greenway." But the city doesn't have such a plan in place and hasn't named an agent to be responsible for the park's maintenance and general upkeep.
To deter crime, the city has installed LED trail lighting and allocated money in its annual budget for the Department of Parks and Parkways to keep the Greenway safe. Beyond that, plans for security aren't specific.
"I wouldn't say we have any special concerns at this time," Jernigan says. "This is something that would potentially be addressed as part of the business and operations plan for the park down the road."
In other cities, greenways have helped to reconnect neighborhoods that were disconnected by the construction of highways and interstates during the urban renewal projects of the 1950s and '60s. For example, Atlanta's Eastside Trail, which opened in 2012, connects 45 inner-city communities as part of the city's BeltLine project. When the city broke ground on the Greenway last March, Mayor Mitch Landrieu spoke to that reconnection directly: "It's a linear park that is going to stretch 2.6 miles from Armstrong Park all the way to City Park," he said. "The most exciting thing is reconnecting neighborhoods that have been disassociated for a long time."
But the construction of the Lafitte Greenway inherently raises the question of gentrification. Riding along the path as it is now, you're taken through old warehouses vacant since Katrina — the kind that look like ripe infrastructure for the craft cocktail and yoga studio patrons that have kept rents and property taxes rising across the city for several years.
For the most part, though, after years of charettes (meetings where groups develop design solutions) organized by both FOLC and the city, residents who live along the corridor seem ready for a change.
"There is a tremendous amount of investment in affordable housing in this corridor, which is something we're most fortunate for," says Sophie Harris, executive director of FOLC. "The Faubourg Lafitte development is right on the corridor, and the Iberville development, those are some of the biggest investments in affordable housing. These are incredibly culturally rich neighborhoods. They're the most culturally rich neighborhoods in the country. It is really essential that this is an amenity that exists for the people who have lived in these communities."
Business owners are getting involved in the Greenway's construction, hoping it will bring more people to the neighborhood or catch their interest on their way to other places.
New Orleanians talk about the Lafitte Greenway