Urban Bushwhacker

Hey, my name crops up in a new article on CityLab, the noted urban news site from The Atlantic. It’s about the Lafitte Greenway.

The corridor carved out by the greenway is almost as old as the city itself. Cutting through the center of the city, it connects Bayou St. John and the Mississippi River. It has always been used for transport, whether via portage by the first settlers to the region, via canal in the 18th century, or via railroad in the 19th and 20th centuries. By the 1970s, rail transport in the city shifted to other lines; the ties were pulled out, and soon, this strip of land became a vacant, overgrown field. Then a guy named Bart Everson came along.

One year after Katrina, catalyzed by a desire to revive a destroyed city, Everson and friends bushwhacked their way through the path. That homegrown effort coincided with a sudden surge of federal funding aimed at rebuilding New Orleans, and—importantly—making it smarter, greener, and more sustainable. The city got on board with the idea of turning the old railway into a trailway, and even repurchased some of the land that had been sold. With funds from city coffers and private donations, in 2015, 10 years after Katrina, and under the guidance of a contractor, design workshop, and extensive planning process, the Lafitte Greenway opened.

I have to say I’m honored to be known as an urban bushwhacker.

As flattering as it is to be singled out, my natural humility and modesty requires me to add that I didn’t do it alone. My “friends” included a diverse and numerous coalition of people and frankly they did all the hard work.

Founders

Truth be known, I’m more of a bushslacker than a bushwhacker.

But the CityLab article is worth a look, getting down into issues of gentrification that are on our minds today. So… read it. There’s been more and more coverage of the Greenway lately. See also this article by Claire Byun on Mid-City Messenger.

Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’

I am so proud to be named one of the Urban Conservancy‘s 2014 Urban Heroes.

What, me a hero? I am not much afflicted with the infamous vice of false modesty, but I have to admit this makes me blush just a little.

Yes, the Lafitte Greenway in now under construction, but after all, I am not the one pouring asphalt and concrete, erecting lampposts and so forth.

Fresh Concrete

Lights on the Greenway

The award comes for my work with FOLC, of course. FOLC has played a vital role in advocating for the greenway. I think it’s safe to say that this work would not be underway presently if it wasn’t for FOLC’s advocacy.

I’m a founding member of FOLC, and I served as president of the group for three years. It’s because of that intimate involvement that I know just how much of a team effort this has been.

So while I will indeed revel in this little slice o’ glory, I’m mindful of the following fact: all I did was help start something.

Wanna be startin’ somethin’?

That’s right, I’m referencing Michael Jackson. I can do that because a) we’re both from Indiana and b) what with this Urban Hero designation I’m almost as famous as him now.

Look: starting something is actually the easiest part. Anyone can start something. People start things all the time, things that don’t last, things that fail to launch. The difficult part is keeping it going — sustaining the effort past the first initial blush of enthusiasm. That’s where the hard work comes in. After the inspiration, perspiration.

That’s where the team effort comes in. This project was blessed with the attention and support of a diverse group of people who brought an array of strengths with them to the table. If it had just been me, the project would have gone nowhere. I’ve piled up a few projects like that over the years. But instead, this project bloomed because people wanted it, and they pursued it with patience, focus, passion, and an attention to detail I could certainly never have mustered on my own.

To those many people who contributed their precious time and effort over the last nine years, I am extremely grateful.

Now get your tickets and help me celebrate.

Lane in the Lens

I’m mentioned briefly in an article published by The Lens: Homeowner or homeless? St. Louis Street resident fights to hang on to what he has.

Hughes is convinced that the gathering momentum against him stems from backers of the Lafitte Greenway, the linear park planned along the abandoned railroad tracks that parallel the canal across from his home. Bart Everson, president of the Friends of Lafitte Corridor, said that while there have been conversations with Hughes about his use of park space for storing building materials and raising chickens, his house is not targeted by the project.

Indeed, the first I’d heard of this was when Karen Gadbois called me today while I was shopping at a thrift store in Vero Beach. I was only vaguely aware of Lane Hughes as the guy who (apparently) was raising some chickens on the old LIFT site, as I observed during our Greenway Ambassador training day.

Chickens

I wish him the best of luck.

Hike Report 2011

We had almost 400 people hiking the Lafitte Corridor this year. We had two City Council members and a Senator. We had planners from Design Workshop. But there were two people in particular I was especially happy to have with me.

Stroller Hike

This is the first time Persephone or Xy made the hike. Persephone can perhaps be excused for missing the first three, since she hadn’t been born yet.

There were a few problems. For example, I got a bit of a sunburn. Yes, I applied sunscreen, but not in all the right places, apparently. The backs of my calves got it especially bad. But all in all I was happy with how everything came together.

I’m utterly astonished at how this event has grown — from three people in 2005 to something like 380 or 390 this year.

Hike Growth

This is way beyond anything I could do on my own. It was a team effort more than ever this year. Even compiling a list of all our sponsors and partners and helpers is a challenge, there are that many.

Not bad for a small group of volunteers working in their spare time. And the trail hasn’t even been built yet.

And to think it all started with an offhand comment my friend David Bryan made as we walked by the bayou one day six years ago. To think how much has gone down since then, and how much has changed, how much we’ve lost, and how much we’ve accomplished, and how much remains to be done. It makes my head spin.

I’ve posted a few more facts and figures and choice quotations on the FOLC website, so if you’re interested check it out.

The Good News

Good News

I’ve been walking around with a big goofy grin for the last week. I got the news last Thursday. It seems that the City of New Orleans has at last signed the contract with Design Workshop that will allow the planning and design and eventual construction of a greenway in the Lafitte Corridor.

Finally! This is something I’ve been working on with Friends of Lafitte Corridor for five years. (In fact it’s been a personal vision of mine for six years.) We were excited when Design Workshop was selected last summer. Since then, we’ve been on pins and needles wondering when the contract would get hammered out and signed by all parties.

Not that we’ve been idle. We’ve continued to work on a multitude of initiatives to ensure the greenway idea continues to advance. We believe this will be a positive and deeply transformational project for the city of New Orleans. Consider the possibilities for sustainable water design. If this project eventually leads to less street flooding — how cool would that be? And that’s just one example.

Such things don’t just happen by accident. I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve done much of anything by myself. All progress to date is the result of lots of hard work by lots of talented and passionate and committed individuals. We’re not superhuman; we’ve faced issues of fatigue and burnout and impatience and frustration just like everyone else.

That’s why good news like this means so much to us.

This is actually the second time Design Workshop has been selected for this project. Under the previous administration, we got as far as a signed contract, but a “notice to proceed” was never issued. When that contract was terminated, it was a major setback for the greenway, and very discouraging to all of us. Now, in the space of a few days, we have not only a contract, but also the “notice to proceed.” It’s heartening to see this indication of Mayor Landrieu’s commitment to the greenway. We look forward to working with Design Workshop and the City of New Orleans to engage the community in the planning and design process. Very little has been decided yet. The fun is just beginning. This is what we’ve been working for.

We’re still waiting for the City to issue their official press release, but I’m sorry — I just couldn’t hold back any longer.

Good News / Jonathan Moreau / BY-NC-ND 2.0

Ambassadors

Some months ago, at a meeting with some folks from the Rails to Trails Conservancy, I was bemoaning the difficulties of sustaining our outreach efforts in Friends of Lafitte Corridor. As an all-volunteer organization, we often run into limits of time and energy, and burnout is an ever-present danger. Kelly Pack suggested the idea of creating an “ambassador” program, and while I might have been skeptical at first, I soon saw the light.

See, over the last couple years, our annual hike of the Lafitte Corridor has gotten so large that we’ve been thinking a new approach is necessary. In 2009 I essentially led a group of 200 people on a three-mile hike all by myself. Oh, I had some help, but it was mostly me. It’s a far cry from how we started in 2005 with just three people.

And so it dawned on me that an ambassador program could solve this problem. Our primary outreach event is the hike, and so that could be the first thing for ambassadors to do. We could break the single monolithic horde into small groups, each led by a Greenway Ambassador.

A fantastic idea — which would have remained as nothing but an idea if it was just me. I don’t have the capacity to make that idea a reality. Fortunately FOLC has recently gotten an infusion of fresh blood. Our years of organizing seem to be paying off. We now have a critical mass of committed people working together such that ambitious ideas like this can be realized.

I saw the proof Saturday morning at Delgado, at our first Greenway Ambassador training.

Ambassadors

Look how many people are in that photo! Adding in the off-camera organizers, we were at capacity with thirty people in attendance. I hasten to add that I didn’t do a damn thing to put this together. I just showed up and made my standard presentation. This event was organized by other people, namely Maggie Tishman and Matt Rufo. I can’t express how excited I am by that fact.

I mentioned being at capacity. We had two vans, fifteen people each, and every seat was full. We shuttled down to Armstrong Park and started walking.

Pre-Hike Begins

Hike-o-rama

You never know what you might see when you get out and start walking.

Chickens

Festival of Bulbs

Truck

X Spot

Thanks also to Rails to Trails Conservancy for underwriting lunch at Bud’s Broiler.

Bud's

If you’re interested, you can see even more photos of the day’s events.

Please note this was not the annual hike. Think of it as a pre-hike. The real deal is April 16. I hope you’ll join us — you can register now.

Save the Date

Save the Date

Hike the Lafitte Corridor will take place this year on April 16, 2011 beginning at 10:00 a.m. Since establishment, each year Friends of Lafitte Corridor (FOLC) holds a hike where they lead the community through the three-mile stretch that will soon be constructed into a greenway. The greenway will link neighborhoods including the French Quarter, Tremé, Mid-City, Faubourg St. John, City Park and Lakeview.

“Once you actually walk the length of the future greenway site, it makes it easier to see the potential such a project will have on our neighborhoods and community,” stated FOLC president Bart Everson. One of our goals is to make sure the neighbors and community in the areas closely affected are part of the building and planning process.”

Details on additional activities, partnerships and information regarding Hike the Lafitte Corridor 2011 will be announced soon. For more information, please visit the FOLC website at folc-nola.org.

Sunshine & Sausage

Selection Committee

Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.
— Otto von Bismarck

I had the chance to observe a bit of sausage-making yesterday. I attended the meeting of a committee charged with selecting a team to design a greenway for the Lafitte Corridor.

A little context may be in order. Some sixteen months ago, the previous mayoral administration selected Design Workshop, from a field of fourteen applicants, to begin design of a greenway in the Lafitte Corridor. We (meaning the board of Friends of Lafitte Corridor) were happy with the selection, but the process was a bit mysterious and vague, taking place behind closed doors. That June, a couple hundred people turned out to hike the Lafitte Corridor and meet the designers. Our spirits were high, and it seemed that real progress was imminent.

By contrast, our spirits were quite low when the administration terminated the contract with Design Workshop in January. It represented a major setback for the project. I hasten to add that the termination didn’t reflect in any way on Design Workshop but had to do with obscure technical matters relating to a conflict between the city’s policies and procedures versus the requirements of the federal government. The policies and procedures were tweaked accordingly. The administration re-issued the request for proposals, but before they could be evaluated, their term in office was up.

Then a new guy comes into office. First order of business: gotta revamp those policies and procedures again. Gotta make it more open and transparent. Well, OK, that sounds good, but could we please get on with it?

So here we are again, right back where we were sixteen months ago. And yet what a difference a new mayoral administration makes. Last time, this process was hidden from view behind closed doors. Citizen groups like Friends of Lafitte Corridor had to rely on rumor and gossip just to divine what was going on in our own government. This time, everything was different. This meeting represented the very first selection for procurement of services made under the new policies and procedures. I was able to attend the meeting and observe as the committee discussed their criteria, proposals were evaluated on a matrix, scores tallied up, and a selection made.

All I gotta say is, despite the immortal wisdom of Otto von Bismarck, that’s some pretty sweet sausage. Sunshine would appear to be the best spice.

Oh, the selected team? Design Workshop. Yes, again. They have been chosen as the best applicants twice now. Last time there were fourteen proposals. This time there were thirteen, but they were not all the same as before. So the process may be different, but the result was the same. I think it’s safe to say that Design Workshop is well-qualified for this work. The citizens of New Orleans can have confidence in this choice — and also in a process for spending public money that is open to public scrutiny. It’s a far cry from participatory budgeting, but it is a step in the right direction.

I’m certainly happy with the selection. It’s great news for this project. But it’s important to keep this in perspective. We’re finally back to where we were in April of 2009. The contract still has to be negotiated. Last time that process took half a year. Hopefully it will go more quickly this time, since it was already negotiated once before. After that, of course, the contract has to be signed by all relevant parties. That took a month last time. Then a notice to proceed has to be issued. Then and only then can the work begin — the design work, mind you. Not construction, not yet. It will still be a good while before we break ground. A good design phase is absolutely essential for a quality product, and the active participation of all relevant stakeholders is essential. And I think that is the message we need to keep front and center in the months ahead.

The Greenway Shuffle

Now might be a good time to register for the Lafitte Corridor hike on May 8.

2009Walk-YellowBldgCrowdphoto by Charles London

Here’s a new song I’ve been singing lately.

Two step forwards, one step back
Doing the greenway shuffle

Last year we took two steps forward. This year we’re taking a step back. I have to keep reminding myself: We are still making progress.

Over the past several years I’ve organized an annual hike of the Lafitte Corridor. It’s been a way of rallying the community in support of the greenway project. (If you’re not familiar, the project aims to transform this vacant space into a new public amenity. You can find more information on the website of Friends of Lafitte Corridor.) It’s been a way of keeping people engaged, keeping their spirits and enthusiasm up, while we grind slowly toward the goal.

This year, the situation is reversed. I’m the one who needs my spirits rallied. I’m the one who needs to see that the community desire for this project is as strong as ever. Because frankly I have been discouraged.

We’ve been slogging away at this project for years now. Last year it seemed we were finally making headway. The city had issued a request for proposals, and selected a team led by Design Workshop to do the work. Contract negotiations were still underway when we had our hike, but a number of people from Design Workshop came and hiked with us, and one of the principals addressed the group at the end of the hike. Spirits were high, and it seemed likely that we might even see a groundbreaking ceremony by the time of the next hike.

Contract negotiations between Design Workshop and the city continued over the summer. Wow, did that a long time. Then, once the details had been hammered out to everyone’s satisfaction, the contract entered a phase of being routed around City Hall being signed by various officials. That seemed to take forever as well. Finally in November the mayor signed the contract and I breathed a sigh of relief.

But I exhaled too soon. Turns out there’s something called a “notice to proceed” that has to be issued before work actually begins. We kept waiting for that, but it never happened.

Then we got word that HUD was raising questions about the policies the city had in place for awarding contracts. See, this work was to be funded through HUD’s Community Development Block Grant program, aka CDBG, so the feds have a say. The city administration revised its policy. But they also decided to preemptively re-bid the three projects funded by CDBG.

To this end, they terminated the contract with Design Workshop.

I looked on in horror throughout this process. It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Well, that’s how it seemed to me, because I really wanted to see this project move forward. Perhaps the city did the right thing. Perhaps I don’t know all the details. I wish the city had asked HUD to review the procurement procedures that were followed for this particular project. The Friends of Lafitte Corridor had been monitoring the whole process from afar; we thought the deal with Design Workshop was clean and solid; we were fairly confident that HUD would have given it a clean bill of health. But who knows? That’s all water under the bridge now I suppose.

The city issued a new request for proposals. The deadline was this past Monday. Now the city is evaluating proposals, and unfortunately we don’t have much confidence in the process this time around. For one thing, the administration seems to want to get a contract done before their term is up, which is in three weeks — despite the fact that it took them six months to negotiate last time. And there are other cause for concern. That’s why I sent off a letter to the Office of the Inspector General yesterday.

(Please note: Though I signed my name to it, I did not actually pour out the blood, sweat and tears that went into writing that letter. It’s an exhaustively researched document; I couldn’t have done it if I tried. It was a collaborative effort, with a couple key members of the FOLC Board doing the heavy lifting.)

I’m really discouraged that it’s come to this.

And that’s why it’s important to me to see a good showing at this year’s hike. That’s why I need your help. Last year we had 200 people show up. This year we’ll be hiking just days after a new administration has taken office. We need to show the new mayor that the community still desires this project.

But I’m just about running out of steam, folks. My enthusiasm is at a low ebb. I need your help to promote this event.

Sure, we can and should use social media to push this thing forward, but that’s somewhat limiting. Digital campaigns tend to reproduce the same social divides that keep us apart us in real life. We need to reach beyond the internet and let people who aren’t wired into our social networks know about this thing. We need to let them know that we’re only just getting started — that nothing has been decided yet — that there is still time to get involved “on the ground floor” so to speak and have a voice in how this thing is designed.

We are partnering with Massey’s Professional Outfitters again this year. Rouse’s will be providing lunch. Through our friends at the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy we’ve connected with Merrell and they’ve signed on as a sponsor too. Their creative department is working on a flyer which I hope may be available soon.

There will be food, and music, and in general it should be a fun event. So please register and join us May 8, and help me spread the word.

Walk & Talk

Audio slideshow from Urban Pathways to Livable Communities conference in New Orleans, February 25-26, 2010.

A walk of the Lafitte Corridor hosted by Bart Everson of Friends of Lafitte Corridor and Daniel Samuels of the Lafitte Greenway Steering Advisory Committee.

Spontaneous Public Sculpture

Lafitte Corridor

This sculpture mysteriously appeared on the Lafitte Corridor last week, just in time for the Urban Pathways conference tour. I was surprised and touched. It’s worth nothing that Friends of Lafitte Corridor did not solicit or commission this sculpture, though in retrospect I’m pretty sure I know who made it. It is, quite simply, yet another indication of the community’s desire for the greenway project to move forward.

Revitalization

[Photos by Joseph Brock]

FOLC on WWOZ

WWOZ will be airing a “Street Talk” segment on the Lafitte Corridor greenway project today (Tues 1/12/10) at 2pm sharp. Listen on 90.7 FM in New Orleans or on the web at wwoz.org or just use the handy player on the FOLC website.

Buying It Back

There’s an article in today’s paper on a subject near and dear to my heart. I’m even quoted herein. My comments follow.

Greenway Ahead

by Lolis Eric Elie, The Times-Picayune
Saturday September 05, 2009, 10:42 PM

In a move that could help create the first new public park in New Orleans in two decades, the Trust for Public Land has obtained rights to buy the site of the ill-fated Louisiana Institute of Film Technology.


Rusty Costanza / The Times-PicayuneHikers walk through an overgrown area of the Lafitte Corridor in 2008 during an annual outing.

The city needed the trust’s help with the Lafitte Greenway parcel because federal money the city is relying on to buy the property won’t be available for several months.

“The city’s Office of Recovery Management called the Trust for Public Land and asked us to help them with the acquisition of this property. That’s exactly what we do, ” said Larry Schmidt, director of the trust’s New Orleans office.

“We help cities, states, the National Park Service and agencies like that acquire property. We do the appraisals, the survey work and we acquire the title and hold it while the city’s funding is being assembled, ” he said.

The 18-acre strip, now held by a mortgage company, is part of a mostly city-owned three-mile tract that follows along an unused railway bed beginning near Basin Street Station, continuing along Lafitte Street across North Carrollton Avenue and ending near Canal Boulevard.

The area includes the Sojourner Truth Community Center, a gas station at Lafitte and Broad streets where public employees fill their cars, and the old brake tag station at Lafitte and Jefferson Davis Parkway.

“All these facilities will be repurposed to serve the greenway corridor, ” said Dubravka Gilic, director of strategic planning for the city recovery office.

Daniel Samuels, an architect, is a founding member of Friends of Lafitte Corridor, a three-year-old community group that has been the most visible advocate for creation of the corridor. He said the idea of turning this area into public space is not new.

“City planning documents have recognized the potential of that corridor going all the way back to the 1976 Claiborne Avenue Design Team Study done by Cliff James and Rudy Lombard, to successive phases of the New Orleans New Century Master Plan, which was started in the 1990s, ” Samuels said.

The old LIFT site, one block wide, is the widest part of the three-mile stretch. The rail bed corridor becomes extremely narrow as it runs alongside such privately owned buildings as the Rouses Supermarket and Bohn Ford buildings on Carrollton.

The purchase by the Trust for Public Land will ensure that a city deal could be sealed quickly and that the land would be dedicated to public purposes. The trust expects to sell the land back to the city by the end of the year.


Eliot Kamenitz / The Times-PicayuneLarry Schmidt, director of the New Orleans Office of the Trust for Public Land stands on some of the 18 acres at Lafitte and North Galvez streets that will form the first leg of the parkway.

The city has dedicated $11.6 million of its federal Community Development Block Grant money to the greenway project, Gilic said. Of that total, $4 million is reserved for purchasing the former LIFT site and the remainder will be devoted to designing and building the corridor, she said.

Friends of Lafitte Corridor hopes that the entire space will be developed, not just the plot where the film institute was supposed to be.

“The main thing that I have always kept in mind with this project is that it needs to be a safe, contiguous path, a trail, ” said Bart Everson, president of Friends of Lafitte Corridor. “But if it can have park-like amenities along it then that is value added.”

The Design Workshop, a firm in Austin, Texas, will spearhead the design effort, working with local partners that include Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, an architecture firm, and Bright Moments, a public relations firm.

Before the area was a railway bed it was the Carondelet Canal, linking Lake Pontchartrain to the French Quarter via Bayou St. John.

“We have encouraged our designers to coordinate with the Sewerage & Water Board to make all the efforts to re-introduce the water back into this space, ” Gilic said. “That will definitely be one of the elements of this project.”

Gilic said the designers will conduct five rounds of workshops designed to gain public input into the development.

The property the trust will buy consists of two adjacent parcels that LIFT bought in 2006. Slightly more than half was owned by Norfolk Southern Railroad, while the rest was owned by the city.

LIFT abruptly collapsed two years ago when federal investigators started looking into its dealings. In April, LIFT director Malcolm Petal was sentenced to five years in federal prison for conspiring to bribe a former state official, Mark Smith, in exchange for Louisiana film-industry tax credits. Last month, Smith was sentenced to two years in federal prison for his role in the scheme.

. . . . . . .

Lolis Eric Elie can be reached at [email protected] or 504.826.3330.

Thanks Lolis. OK, it’s me again. Just several points I’d like to add.

  1. This land transaction takes FOLC full circle. We were initially galvanized by news the city was selling this land to LIFT, back in February 2006.
  2. I’m not sure why there’s the emphasis on “park.” I don’t know if TPL has strings attached to this deal where the city has to make it a park. I’m not sure quite what to think of that. I’m in favor (obviously) of a greenway, but that’s not necessarily the same thing as a park, though a park would certainly be compatible. But I know of at least one organization that wants to build a school there, which I think is an intriguing possibility. Most of all, I’d like the greenway to be recognized in the public mind as a source of economic revitalization, not just green space.
  3. And why did TPL have to get involved? Was it because of cashflow issues, as the article suggests? The ordinance by which the city authorized the sale of this land stipulated that the city would have the first right of refusal to buy this land back if the film studio should fall through. But I believe this land was sold at LIFT’s bankruptcy auction, to the highest bidder. What happened to the city’s first right of refusal?

    And therein lies the story behind this story, which to my knowledge no journalist has taken up. Back in May 2006, the City Council passed an amendment (Ordinance #22,241) to the original act of sale (Ordinance #22,197). There’s a lot of obfuscatory legalese in these documents, but when sifted it seems that the only purpose of this amendment was to waive the city’s right of refusal for most of the city-owned acres, all but the so-called “paper streets.” The language is crafted in such a way that I’ll wager most of the council didn’t understand the city was giving up anything. The only conceivable purpose of this little legislative sleight-of-hand would be, presumably, to help LIFT with their financing. LIFT of course has since been implicated in other matters of influence-peddling. So was this another dirty deal? I sure wish a journalist would look into this.

    Oh, the sponsor of that amendment? A certain councilman, voted out in 2006 but looking to make a comeback in 2010. So it would be nice to know if my understanding is accurate or if I’m way out in left field.

  4. Oh, and the city has now allocated $11.6 million for the greenway? Hot dog. The things I learn reading the paper!

P.S.: I just noticed the graphic is wrong. And since it’s attributed to Friends of Lafitte Corridor, I’m inclined to correct it. The parcel being purchased by the city is wider than what’s shown. It actually extends the full width from Lafitte Street to St. Louis. The tract become considerably wider as it approaches Claiborne.

Hike & Bike

So how many people came out for our hike? Can we call it 200? The Times-Picayune did. So if you’re keeping score, the annual breakdown looks like this:

2005: 3
2006: 18
2007: 17
2008: 60
2009: 200

2009Walk-Hikers6

Photo by Charlie London

See also the video on WWL.

Our budget for publicity? More or less exactly zero. Word spread mainly through online means. It was listed on Meetup.com, for example.

The weather was beautiful, and that surely helped. But obviously this is an idea whose time has come, and the people of New Orleans are hungry for it. The voluminous turnout demonstrates that amply.

I was delighted and more than a little overwhelmed. It’s strange how you can be with such a large group and still feel mostly alone with your thoughts. That’s because I was usually out in front, trying to guide us the right way. After all, the path isn’t there yet — you have to use your imagination.

I enjoyed myself and still managed to take a few pictures, but such a large crowd did generate logistical challenges. I was worried we wouldn’t have adequate transportation back to the point of departure. We’d been planning on a modest increase in number, maybe 75 hikers. Our sponsor, Massey’s Profeesional Outfitters, scrambled to get extra food for lunch, but they had only chartered one bus.

Last year I said we might need to register people in advance, but we didn’t. Perhaps we should have. We will have to consider some major modifications to the game plan next year. If we break ground on this project at this time next year (could happen!) we might have 400 people or more.

It all worked out in the end, though, and I was pleased with the event as a whole. We had a number of speakers address the group at key points along the hike, which I think added a much-needed dimension of educational richness. A megaphone would have been handy.

I think this will go down in my books as one of the coolest days of my year, if not my life, except for one little blemish toward the end:

My bike got stolen. It was locked to the fence in front of Armstrong Park. Right there on Rampart Street. In the middle of the day. Someone must have had a pair of boltcutters and some big balls.

Hike the Lafitte Corridor

What are you doing for National Trails Day? If you’re in New Orleans, please join us for the 5th Annual Hike of the Lafitte Corridor.

Saturday June 6
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 hard to believe this is the fifth such event. The first one only had three hikers and no fanfare. The second hike attracted sixteen participants and led to the formation of Friends of Lafitte Corridor.

Last year we had sixty people turn out. Amazing.

Hikers

About last year: We advertised that event as absolutely the last chance to hike the corridor in its undeveloped state. Oops. Not quite. Here it is one year later, and there’s no tangible work done. There has actually been plenty of progress, but behind the scenes. Frankly we are now where we probably should have been a year ago. Everything has been slower than it should be, and the process got jammed up for a while. The promise I made last year — that by this time “there’s at least gonna be some pavement in place, for at least a portion” of the greenway — has turned out to be incorrect. Granted, that was a bit of a bluff, a little bravado on my part. At the time it still seemed possible that the whole greenway proposal would simply fall apart. I felt it necessary to raise the stakes a little. I offer my humble apology to anyone who trusted my word. I take that seriously, and it pains me to have been wrong.

And yet it’s hard for me to feel discouraged, because I was wrong in another way. I thought if my bold prediction failed to materialize it would be because the whole greenway project had been derailed (no pun) and that’s absolutely not the case. In fact, we seem to be on track (again no pun) at last.

Eventually this three-mile stretch of old railroad corridor will be a beautiful greenway with bicycle and pedestrian paths, park-like in places, tying together disparate neighborhoods and providing a great amenity to everyone in New Orleans. That grand scheme will take a while. But the City is (finally) taking the first big step in retaining the services of Design Workshop to design and plan the greenway, as well as a revitalization program for the blocks that surround it.

I’ve just gotten word that Rebecca Leonard and Kurt Culbertson from Design Workshop will be joining us for the hike, so this is a fantastic opportunity for the community to meet the planners and (perhaps more to the point) for the planners to see first-hand just how many people care so passionately about this project.

The reason I’m so passionate about this is that I have to be. Whatever momentum we’ve got is only because citizens — regular people like you and me — have gotten involved and pushed it forward. Lots of people have been pushing hard on all kinds of different fronts, and in many cases we’re only beginning to see the first signs of progress now. That citizen involvement is essential to the positive transformation of New Orleans, and this hike is a great way to demonstrate and celebrate that fact. 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.

Once again Massey’s Professional Outfitters is stepping up to sponsor the hike. 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.

It’s a three mile hike, and the weather is sure to be hot, and parts of the path are overgrown and weedy — though not so overgrown and weedy as last year, thanks to the efforts of Sheriff Marlon Gusman. So dress accordingly, and bring some sunscreen. You might want to bring a bottle of water to stay hydrated. This is a hike, not a garden walk. Flip-flops are not appropriate footwear!

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.

Dear Goody Clancy

Here’s a letter which I hope to present directly to representatives of Goody Clancy at tonight’s District 4 meeting (6PM @ Jesuit).

Dear Goody Clancy,

Friends of Lafitte Corridor has been reviewing the Master Plan draft. It is quite impressive. However, there are several points that concern us. We believe that the revitalization of the Lafitte Corridor, with a central greenway, offers a model for nurturing the values of sustainability and community that the Master Plan draft espouses. Therefore I am sending this follow-up to my recent e-mail.

  1. Chapter 13 mentions the Mississippi River Greenway Initiative, but we could find no mention of the greenway project planned for the Lafitte Corridor.
  2. The greenway shows up on the proposed bike route map, but it is not the correct length. (It should extend from Basin Street all the way to Canal Blvd. instead of terminating at City Park Ave.)
  3. Note the two-part structure of the project as the Office of Recovery Development has conceived it and City Planning Commission staff has endorsed: development of a Lafitte Corridor Revitalization Plan and design of the greenway/trail itself. These two prongs are distinct and substantial.
  4. In recognition of the unique opportunities the greenway represents, we recommend a special land use designation for trail-oriented development along the entire length of the Lafitte Corridor.
  5. The integrative nature of the project as “green infrastructure” should be emphasized — integrating active transportation, public health and recreation, economic revitalization, cultural preservation and environmental sustainability initiatives.
  6. For an excellent example of trail-oriented land use planning, please see the Midtown Greenway’s Land Use Development Plan

  7. Attached please find a copy of the City Planning Commission’s recent review of the Lafitte Greenway Master Plan. Note their recommendation to integrate this plan into the Citywide Master Plan and Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance effort.

Feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss these matters in greater detail. Also please feel free to contact my fellow board members: Dr. Lake Douglas who is a professor at the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture at LSU, and architect Daniel Samuels.

Yours sincerely,

Bart Everson
President
Friends of Lafitte Corridor