The Hike Report

I had no idea how many people to expect for today’s 4th Annual Hike of the Lafitte Corridor. Last year we had 16 or 17, the year before that, the same. But this year we had better publicity thanks to the sponsorship of Massey’s Professional Outfitters. If we doubled our numbers we’d be successful beyond my wildest dreams.

But we didn’t double our numbers. We just about quadrupled them.

I was absolutely knocked out, astonished, amazed, flabbergasted even, by this response. How to explain it? I’d like to think everyone was drawn by the sheer force of my charisma, but even I can’t swallow that one.

Maybe it was the lunch at Massey’s.

Or maybe it’s an indication that this project’s time has come.

Group Photo

Here’s a set of 22 photos I took. See also the Lafitte Corridor group pool. In fact, if you took any pictures of the hike yourself, please add them to the pool.

I gotta give props again to Massey’s. The only estimate they had was the numbers I gave them, and I low-balled it. As we started hiking, I gave them a call. (Up to this point all our arrangements had been made over e-mail. In fact, I didn’t even have their number in my phone — had to look it up on Google Maps.) “Uh, you remember the ‘wildest dreams’ estimate I gave you? Well, double that.” And to their great credit, they rolled with it like the pros they are. They quickly got more food for lunch and chartered a bus for the return shuttle.

Somehow we seemed to move much faster as a large group. I’ve got timestamped photos from each of the previous hikes that prove our smaller groups moved much more slowly. You’d have thought it would be the opposite. My theory is that smaller groups can stop and linger for discussion much more easily. Sixty people, not so much. So we just kept hiking.

I really don’t relish organizing events. But already my thoughts are turning to next year’s hike. Hopefully it will be even bigger, or at least comparable. I hope some of this year’s participants return and can see some progress made on building the greenway. The portion between Jeff Davis and Carrollton was the roughest patch, actually hazardous in places with high weeds and industrial debris. Next year it should be the easiest stretch, as that’s the first place we hope to lay asphalt.

PS: Of course no post on this subject would be complete without a link to the Friends of Lafitte Corridor. Go join now.

Update: Here’s two other blog accounts of the hike: Blazing (hot) trail by NOLA Cleophatra and Hot on the trail by the inimitable Dangerblond. Hmmm… I guess it was pretty warm out there… I didn’t really notice. But thanks for writing about it, y’all.

Thoughts Before the Hike

As we hike the length of the abandoned rail line known as the Lafitte Corridor tomorrow, we’ll pass by the Lafitte public housing development. Or perhaps I should say the ruins of this development. These buildings are currently being demolished, and the sight is quite dramatic to say the least. The demolition of these properties has been extremely controversial, provoking plenty of passion both for and against.

I thought this would be a good time to revisit FOLC’s “Statement on the Lafitte Greenway and Lafitte Community,” which was formulated about nine months ago:

September 22, 2007

Friends of Lafitte Corridor (FOLC) recognizes and respects the Lafitte community’s history of association with and pioneering development of recreational and community amenities in the Lafitte Corridor. Facilities such as Lemann Playground, Lemann Pool, Sojourner Truth Center, and community gardens were developed to serve the Lafitte and Treme neighborhoods.

FOLC’s vision for the Lafitte Greenway is based upon the preservation and improvement of all existing public recreational and community amenities in the Lafitte Corridor.

The Lafitte community must be actively engaged in planning and implementation of the Lafitte Greenway.

FOLC recognizes the destructive impact of the Lafitte Community’s extended displacement and supports immediate action to facilitate the return of all displaced New Orleanians.

FOLC’s mission is founded upon the principle that all communities adjoining the Lafitte Greenway should enjoy the Greenway’s benefits equitably. These benefits will include:

  • a safe off-street route for pedestrians and cyclists linking residents to adjoining neighborhoods, schools and public facilities, places of work and commerce
  • new opportunities for public health and recreation
  • renewed investment in storm-damaged neighborhoods
  • new opportunity for promotion of environmental education and heritage tourism
  • a more sustainable, livable city

Something to think about. See you at the front gate of Armstrong Park, tomorrow morning, 10:00 AM.

My Mission as FOLC Chair

As preparation for being a father, I backed off my involvement with a couple nonprofits. I resigned from the board of the Urban Conservancy and did not seek re-election as Communications Director for the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization. I still believe in these groups’ missions; I just felt I needed to make time for being a dad, not to mention finishing up our renovation.

But with one organization, I didn’t back off. In fact, I stepped up. I’m talking about Friends of Lafitte Corridor. I’m now honored to be serving as the chair for this nonprofit corporation. (We just got our 501(c)3 status, so it’s legal.) I decided to stay involved with FOLC because it’s closest to my heart as an organization that I helped found, still a fledgling but with a lot of momentum.

Beyond that, I felt a personal calling to stick my neck out and exercise a little more leadership. Thus I volunteered to chair the organization. This is not something I take lightly. So I thought I’d just take a moment to reflect publicly on my philosophy.

Some people are confused by organizations that include both a president and a chair. However, I think this structure makes a lot of sense. I see the president as an executive position, primarily focused on taking actions to advance the organization’s mission. The vice-president and at-large board members also serve this function. The chair, on the other hand, like the Treasurer and Secretary, focuses on the organization’s internal processes.

I’m not some kind of wonky process geek, no matter what my friends say. I want to see results and a final product just like everyone else. But I think I do have slightly more of an orientation toward process than most people, and so I put myself forward to fill this role.

This means putting my own desires and my own personal opinions on the back burner, and focusing on the group process. It also means maintaining a focus on the “big picture” — the mission — and not getting bogged down in executive details. And let’s face it, there are a lot of details involved in such an ambitious project as we have set for ourselves: the building of a three-mile urban greenway. The executive board members have their work cut out for them.

As chair, my primary responsibility within FOLC is running the monthly board meetings and the quarterly membership meetings. Anybody who’s been to a poorly organized meeting (haven’t we all?) knows how painful and exhausting they can be. But a well-run meeting can leave people feeling energized and confident that the organization is moving in the right direction. My guidebook is the Democratic Rules of Order, which I recommend unreservedly to anyone who participates in meetings on a regular basis. I wouldn’t wish Robert’s Rules on my worst enemy.

Over the course of time conflicts will emerge in any group. With a fair process in place, these conflicts can be resolved. But people have to believe in the process. They also have to trust that the chair is impartial and will treat all sides fairly. In other words, the chair can’t have a dog in the fight. It’s important for the chair to remain somewhat aloof from the issues, from the actual substance of the organization’s business.

For example, I generally try to avoid bringing motions myself. Better to let others bring the motions and debate them; let the chair focus on the process of the meeting, making sure discussion is proceeding in a civil and timely fashion, and that matters are put to a vote when the time is right.

Because an efficient meeting requires a coherent agenda, I’ve also taken on the responsibility for setting the agenda for each meeting. It’s tricky to set the agenda without advancing my own ideas about what the organization should do. My tactic is to simply compile the agenda, taking direction from other board members. Most recently, in an effort to maintain focus and efficiency, I’ve taken to asking for any “new business” items to be submitted in the form of a motion, in writing. I worried this might be a little too formal, but I think it is actually working out pretty well.

As chair, you may find that I don’t always know every last detail of what we as an organization are doing. But please don’t think that I don’t care or that I’m absent-minded (even though I am). It’s because the cognitive resources which I’m devoting to FOLC are focused on our internal processes instead. I’m trying to make sure that our organization functions in a way that is both efficient and equitable, that we stay on mission and act in accordance with our core values. So if you have a concern regarding process, by all means bring it to me and I will do what I can to make it right. If you have suggestions on how to better conduct our meetings, let me know.

PS: Of course you’re welcome to discuss any of these lofty matters when you join us for the 4th Annual Hike of the Lafitte Corridor this Saturday morning.

Hike the Lafitte Corridor

What are you doing for National Trails Day? If you’re in New Orleans, please join us for the 4th Annual Hike of the Lafitte Corridor.

Hiking

It’s hard to believe this is the fourth such event. The first one only had three hikers and no fanfare. The second hike led to the formation of Friends of Lafitte Corridor.

We’ve advertising this one as absolutely the last chance to hike the corridor in its undeveloped state. Eventually this three-mile stretch of old railroad corridor will be a beautiful greenway with bicycle and pedestrian paths, parklike in places, tying together disparate neighborhoods and providing a great amenity to everyone in New Orleans. That grand scheme will take a while. But by the time we have our 5th Annual Hike, there’s at least gonna be some pavement in place, for at least a portion. That’s a promise.

The reason I’m so passionate about this project is that I have to be. It’s gaining momentum only because citizens — regular people like you and me — have gotten involved and pushed it forward. That citizen involvement is essential to the positive transformation of New Orleans, and this hike is a great way to celebrate that. It’s also a good way to learn more about the greenway project as well as the history and future of the city itself.

Plus, it’s fun. And there’s lunch.

Personally I am very excited about the fact that this year we’ve got an official sponsor: Massey’s Professional Outfitters. They’re a business right on the corridor, and their support for this event has been fantastic. They’ll be providing lunch as well as transportation back to the point of origin.

So here’s the details:

Saturday June 7
10:00 AM: Meet at main entrance to Armstrong Park (Rampart St.)
Noonish: Lunch at Massey’s (509 N Carrollton)
1:00 PM: Finish at Canal Blvd. Shuttle back to Armstrong Park

It’s a three mile hike, and the weather is sure to be hot, and parts of the path are overgrown and weedy. So dress accordingly, and bring some sunscreen.

Did I mention Massey’s is supplying lunch?

Hike the Lafitte Corridor Flyer

Please download the flyer and share with all your friends and neighbors. This is a grassroots effort and we need word-of-mouth.

Mark your calendar, and I look forward to seeing you there.

Vision Plan

I’ve been meaning to post about the Lafitte Greenway Master Plan. Actually I’ve been told it’s more of a “visioning plan” than a “master plan” but nevertheless it’s complete and you should check it out:

Lafitte Greenway Master Plan

This is the most comprehensive statement to date on the Lafitte Greenway. It explains what the greenway is, as well as why and how it should be built.

If you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about, check the above link. This is one of the most positive and promising projects I’ve had the pleasure of being involved with. (I’m proud to say I’m the Chair of Friends of Lafitte Corridor.) If you like what we’re about, please consider getting involved.

In fact, we’re now making a major push to get the section between Jeff Davis and Carrollton built as soon as possible. Details are on the FOLC homepage. Please consider throwing down some bucks to help make this happen.

Hike 3

I wish I’d had a day of rest upon returning to New Orleans, but of course I didn’t. Sunday morning started off with the third annual hike of the Lafitte Corridor.

We began with a dozen people and finished with seventeen.

After the Hike

Click the picture to view a set of 20 wild and wacky pictures from along the route.

(Michael Homan has also posted a set of gulp 273 photos, a neat trick considering he only joined us for ten minutes. His new camera made the trip, though; I think Therese took most of the pictures, but maybe she passed the camera to Alan also.)

Thanks to everyone who came along. We had almost as many hikers as last year, but very few repeat offenders. I was disappointed that no one from Ed Blakely’s office joined us.

I hope everyone will consider getting involved with Friends of Lafitte Corridor. We will have a booth at the Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo this Saturday, so stop by to learn more about one of the most positive projects in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Update: Photo essay of the hike at New Orleans Nation.

Update: We’ve got Kalypso’s support.

3rd Annual Hike

One day in May 2005, three friends got together and hiked three miles through the heart of New Orleans along the old Norfolk-Southern rail line, the so-called “Lafitte Corridor.”

Walking

Last May, 18 people made the hike.

Pausing Briefly

Approaching the End

And now we’re doing it again.

Route
(Click to enlarge the map.)

Last year’s hike sparked the birth of the Friends of Lafitte Corridor, also known as FOLC, a group that has been campaigning tirelessly to preserve this open space and convert it into a public trail — an urban greenway.

Who knows what this year’s hike will bring?

We will meet at the main entrance to Armstrong Park at 10:00 AM on Sunday, May 20th.

Please join us! This event is a good opportunity to meet others interested in the greenway project, to learn about what’s been accomplished so far, and to explore the territory.

The hike takes just under two hours. I recommend bringing sunscreen and water. If you are not in good health, you may not wish to undertake this journey, as it will probably be a hot day and there are a few areas of slightly rough terrain. The hike will end at the Bulldog on Canal Blvd, where lunch and beer are available.

Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes. In fact, you may want to wear boots or long pants, as there may be high weeds in a couple of places.

PS: You can also examine pictures in the Lafitte Corridor Pool on Flickr.

Framing the Issues on Our Terms

Last night we had our Mid-City Recovery Action Meeting, as we do on the first Monday of every month. We’d been planning since last week to address the designs that Victory Real Estate Investments, LLC, appears to have on twenty acres of Mid-City.

What we hadn’t anticipated was Saturday’s front page story in the Times-Picayune. That story really alarmed a lot of people. I saw it as a missed opportunity, but in retrospect, it was free publicity.

There were about 300 people at Grace Episcopal last night, more than we’ve ever had. It was standing room only, and the press was there too.

We knew a lot of people were not just concerned. They were upset. We expected the meeting might devolve into a forum for angry venting.

I have to praise Jennifer Weishaupt, Vice-President and chair of Economic Development for MCNO. She did a great job of providing all the background information. She framed the issue properly. She reviewed all the relevant planning efforts which neighbors and government have engaged in and supported.

One specific citation was particularly to the point:

Development of the warehouse area adjacent to the linear park with mixed use opportunities including multi-family housing, retail facilities, art studios and exhibit space… plazas, seats, landscaping and lighting.

The “linear park” is the Lafitte Corridor which runs right smack dab in the middle of the area where Victory want to build. More about that in a bit.

Jennifer asked for a show of hands — who’s in agreement with the principles that are specified in our neighborhood plan? It was virtually unanimous. Then she outlined the developer’s “Plan B,” the sprawling big box complex described in Saturday’s paper. Another show of hands? And all the hands stayed down.

In other words, Jennifer managed to get people informed and to understand that we’re largely in agreement with one another, and this did a lot to foster civil dialog rather than ranting.

She also pointed out that Victory had also presented a “Plan A,” a so-called “lifestyle development” which did not get mention in the paper Saturday. It’s my feeling that Plan B was presented to scare neighbors into embracing Plan A. But it seems we’re smarter than that.

I get the feeling that Victory hasn’t done its homework. Though the development was presented in Saturday’s paper as a fait accompli, in point of fact they own little of the land in question at this point. Furthermore, they seem to be completely ignorant of the planning for this area that’s already in place. That’s unfortunate, because these plans have the support of both the local community and the local government. These plans can’t be ignored if you want to be a player.

City Council member Shelley Midura was there to reassure neighbors that she works for the community, not the developers. “I don’t do deals,” she repeated several times.

I also spoke. I prefaced Jennifer’s presentation with some remarks about the Lafitte Corridor. Thought I’d post my notes here.
Continue reading “Framing the Issues on Our Terms”

Victory (Not)

I picked up the paper off the porch this morning looking forward to reading another story by Stephanie Bruno about our renovation, the 18th in an ongoing series.

But I was somewhat distracted by the headline on the front page:
Giant Mid-City retail project planned

A Georgia development company has been quietly working to assemble a vast swath of Mid-City, including the Lindy Boggs Medical Center, to create a nearly contiguous 20-acre site for 1.2 million square feet of retail space for national chains that until now have been unable to find a home inside the city.

I was disheartened. I’m not talking about the revelations of the story itself. We’ve known about this developer’s plans for a while now.

Rather, this headline represents a missed opportunity for the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization and the Friends of Lafitte Corridor to control the message, or at least frame it in our terms.

Our community engaged in a long planning process last year. We have a vision for our neighborhood. Any proposed development should be viewed in the context of that vision.

Instead, the article in today’s paper gives a sense of inevitability:

The site being assembled by Victory Real Estate Investments LLC is huge, covering more than half a square mile from Jefferson Davis Parkway to Carrollton Avenue and from Toulouse to Bienville streets.

A second phase being discussed would involve an additional 9 acres on the lake side of North Carrollton, across the street from Sav-A-Center. Victory owns the Sav-A-Center and the former Winn-Dixie store that was converted into a small Home Depot last year.

If we’d taken our message to the press first, we could have been proactive and positive. As it is, MCNO comes off as negative and reactionary:

“We don’t want a suburban-style development plopped in the middle of an urban area,” [MCNO] member Janet Ward Pease said.

I’m not criticizing Janet. The story is simply written this way. The big lead is the developer’s initiative, and a community organization like MCNO is shown as merely reacting to Victory.

The Lafitte Corridor is not mentioned at all, despite the fact that the proposed urban greenway runs right through the heart of the proposed development. That’s a shame, because the Lafitte Corridor is our best opportunity for framing the issue in terms of what matters most to this community. The Lafitte Corridor offers a positive vision of the sort of development we want in Mid-City.

I believe MCNO and FOLC made a mistake in not taking our story to the press. (I’m on the boards of both organizations, so this is self-criticism.) We were well aware of the situation, but it was a mistake to think we could afford to wait. We had a chance to exert more control over the message in the media, and we blew it.

The lesson I hope to remember is this: Seize the opportunity!
Continue reading “Victory (Not)”

Overboard

I seem to have gotten myself onto the board of not one but four (4) community organizations. That sounds kind of crazy, but let me break it down.

First of all there is Think New Orleans. I believe I am technically on the board of Think New Orleans, but I’ve acted mostly in an advisory capacity, as someone for the principal (Alan Gutierrez) to bounce ideas off of on occasion. I helped orchestrate a couple of workshops here at the University which went pretty well. Other than that, I haven’t done much. Sometimes I feel a little guilty about that, but in another way I’m grateful that this hasn’t come to represent a big time commitment, for reasons that should become obvious….

Then there is the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization. I was elected to the board last month. The election itself was a little iffy, but this is New Orleans after all. Anyway, I’ve been the webmaster for MCNO for the better part of the last year. I also set up and run a neighborhood discussion group sponsored by MCNO. I helped write the new bylaws. I’ve been attending all the board meetings for months now. I figured it made sense to formally seek a place on the board. I’ll be chairing a Communications & Outreach Committee. All this despite some long-standing reservations about the group. This organization has gone through many phases in its 30-odd years. I want to be a part of the latest incarnation. I hope MCNO will play a key role in the revitalization of our neighborhood.

Next is the Friends of Lafitte Corridor. I feel a certain pride in FOLC because I helped get the group started with the 2nd Annual Hike of the Lafitte Corridor last May. We’re working to build a greenway with bicycle and pedestrian trails and some park-like aspects through three-miles of inner-city New Orleans. I ran for the board because I’m an everyday bike commuter and I live within 500′ of the corridor. I thought it was important to have that perspective on the board. I cautioned that I would be able to serve in an advisory capacity only. They still elected me. This group is exciting because it has tangible goals and a definite momentum. FOLC has already secured a couple grants. However, I can’t take credit for any of the groups’ accomplishments. Other FOLCs have been doing the hard work, not me.

And finally there’s the Urban Conservancy. I was flattered when this group of supersmart folks asked me to join the board. They’ve been around for a few years, and I have great respect for the work they’ve done, especially the Stay Local project. I’m still trying to figure out what I can contribute.

So, my main goal in 2007 will be maintaining my sanity and a sense of perspective and not getting over-committed in all this volunteer work. I’m at definite risk of spreading myself too thin, which could make all my contributions superficial and/or drive me crazy. But I’m hopeful that I can strike the right balance.

After Hike

The Second Annual Lafitte Corridor Rail Hike was a screaming success!

Railroad Crossing

On Sunday, May 21st, eighteen of us hiked about three miles from Armstrong Park to Canal Boulevard, right through Mid-City following the old Norfolk-Southern rail line. The Louisiana Institute of Film Technology is building a film studio on a key parcel of this land, and they’re including a bike path, which we hope will add momentum to our efforts. We plan to build a three mile bike path and linear park that will connect Armstrong Park to City Park and ultimately make it possible for people to walk or ride all the way from the river to the lake.

You can also see pix of this grand event taken by Michael and Bart.
If you’re interested, please join the FOLC discussion group.