Closer to the Greenway

From New Orleans City Business:

City moving closer to work on creating Lafitte greenway
Redeveloping 3-mile stretch from Quarter to Lakeview billed as recreation hot spot
by Emilie Bahr, Staff Writer

The city has chosen a contractor to plan and design a long-anticipated greenway for a mostly derelict stretch of land connecting Mid-City, Tremé, the French Quarter and Lakeview.

Proponents say transforming the Lafitte Corridor, a ribbon of land that passes through some of the city’s most historic and storm-damaged neighborhoods, into an alternative transportation corridor would offer residents a valuable new amenity while reinvigorating surrounding communities.

In 2006, Bart Everson helped start Friends of Lafitte Corridor, one of the groups advocating for a linear park that has at its center a paved bicycle and pedestrian path.

greenway4872

(Photo by Frank Aymami)

“It’s not just a bike and pedestrian path,” Everson said. “It’s also an economic revitalization plan for the surrounding neighborhoods.”

The corridor runs along a former shipping channel that once connected the northern edge of the French Quarter with Bayou St. John. The canal was filled in 1938, and part of the site was converted to a rail line.

Plans to convert the largely abandoned, three-mile industrial strip into a public greenway have been floated since the 1970s, but the proposals never gained much mainstream traction until Hurricane Katrina.

Jake Wagner, an urban planning specialist helping shape greenway plans, said the storm provided the impetus for translating what for years seemed little more than an idealist’s fantasy into a real possibility. Since the storm, a revitalized Lafitte Corridor has been incorporated in all of the city redevelopment proposals.

The city has chosen Design Workshop of Austin, Texas, to do the planning and design work on the project, which is slated to be built in phases. The trail portion of the greenway will be completed in the first phase, said Debravka Gilic, director of strategic planning for the Office of Recovery and Development Administration.

According to FOLC, about $3 million has been set aside for planning, design and construction, including about $2.6 million in community development block grants.

Everson said the eventual cost of the greenway will depend on the scope of the final proposal.

“The cost is so variable depending on how you want to do it,” he said.

Completion of the trail portion of the greenway could likely be accomplished for about $3 million, but more money is needed to make the project “the true community amenity it can become,” said Billy Fields, director of the Center for Urban and Public Affairs at the University of New Orleans.

“It’s the low-hanging fruit,” said greenway advocate Geoff Coats, formerly of the Urban Conservancy, which has worked with FOLC, other organizations and area residents to get the project going.

At a time of deep public frustration over few visible signs of post-storm recovery, Coats sees the greenway project as one city officials can point to as a success story.

“I think it’s one of the most fully baked, fully developed projects,” he said. “There’s no downside to it at all that I can see.”

Planners envision locals using the greenway for recreation and bicycle commuting, while tourists would make their way from their French Quarter hotels to City Park, the New Orleans Museum of Art and Bayou St. John.

Wagner believes the greenway could be incorporated into cultural heritage tourism.

“You can explain most of the major phases of New Orleans history in that small three-mile stretch,” he said. “You’ve got the entire architectural history of the city” represented.

Fields, former research director for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in Washington, D.C., said the greenway could serve as a model for trail-oriented development, a concept that plays on transit-rooted development, or the idea that private investment naturally follows public investment in major transportation nodes.

“You see this in New York, in Tokyo, on a massive scale,” Wagner said, referring to the concentrations of commercial development that can be found in those cities around large subway stops.

Charlie Doerr, owner of the Bayou St. John store Bayou Bicycles, is among the business owners hoping to reap the greenway’s benefits.

“Our backdoor opens out basically right on to it,” said Doerr, sitting in his office looking through a window at what is currently vacant land. But he is optimistic that one day, he’ll be watching bicyclists, walkers and runners move by. He’s already started thinking about starting a bike rental service to tap into the influx of new visitors.

“Once the thing is open, people are gonna use it and we’ll be right in the middle of it,” he said.

Nice article. Now if you want to learn more, please come to the upcoming meeting of Friends of Lafitte Corridor:

Design Professionals Explain the Work about to be Done on the Greenway and hear about FOLC’s 5th Annual Corridor Hike

Come join us for the latest Greenway update and news of our upcoming Corridor Hike! The City is about to award a contract for Lafitte Greenway design and Lafitte Corridor Revitalization planning. Learn exactly what that entails and how you can have your say in what the Greenway will be like. Lake Douglas, FOLC Board member and LSU Professor of Landscape Architecture; and Daniel Samuels, architect and past President of FOLC; and current Chair of the Lafitte Greenway Steering Advisory Committee, explain the process and tell you what sort of timeline we anticipate for construction. Also Bart Everson and Jeff Schwartz will announce plans for our 5th Annual Hike of the Lafitte Corridor. – It’s all at the FOLC Membership Meeting – Thurs April 23rd at 6:30PM at Grace Episcopal Church, 3700 Canal St.

Bring a friend & sign up for FOLC membership

FOLC in the Zone

WWL-TV will do a feature on the Lafitte Corridor this Thursday morning at 7:45 AM.

This is part of a series called “In the Zone.” They’re covering a different recovery zone each segment. They’ve done almost all of them, so this is one of the last. If you want to see previous episodes in this series, look online.

I did an interview with them Friday, right on the Lafitte Corridor. The camera operator said he’s shot hundreds of stories about projects around town. He said he’s cynical and skeptical toward just about everything — but THIS project turned him on, big-time. That was pretty inspirational to me.

They’re hoping to shoot interviews with a few other folks. Linda Landesberg and Edgar Chase will also appear in studio. The reporter, Rob Nelson, seemed to have a pretty good handle on the issues, so I expect this to be some great publicity.

Please tune in, and if anybody has a means to conveniently capture the broadcast as a digital file, please let me know.

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.

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)”

Flood Marker

I took this picture this morning at Jeff Davis and Conti.

Waterline Marker

I think anyone in New Orleans would recognize what this marker means: that’s how high the water came during last year’s flood. As a point of reference, the waterline was about the level of my neck, and I’m tall.

What I wonder about is: Who put this here, and is it part of a larger project? Are there more markers like this around the city?

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.

Film Studio Under Fire — Not!

I’m disappointed by the spin of this article in City Business —laf the headline in particular. “Film studio under fire”? C’mon. No one is criticizing the LIFT project. In fact, everyone I’ve talked to is pretty excited about it. What we are questioning is process by which the public land was sold.

2nd Annual Hike

On May 21st of last year, with a couple friends, I hiked about three miles through New Orleans following the (mostly) abandoned Norfolk-Southern rail line. This line runs from Armstrong Park to Canal Boulevard, through the area known as the “Lafitte Corridor.”

Route

We thought it was an excellent candidate for a Rails-to-Trails project. We still do. A lot has changed over the last year, but in the new New Orleans this project seems more possible than ever. In fact, I am working with a group of neighbors that recently submitted a grant proposal to the state, proposing to build this trail. (I can’t take much credit for the hard work of writing the grant, though. The props go to Amy Lafont.)

So… this year we’re doing it again, and you’re invited to join us! It is my hope that this event will be a good opportunity to meet others interested in the project, to learn more about the possibilities and to explore the territory.

We will meet at the main entrance to Armstrong Park at noon on Sunday, May 21st.

The hike took about 90 minutes last year, but could take longer depending on how fast the group moves. 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 or at NolaJava, depending on what people are in the mood for.

Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes.

PS: You can also examine the set of pictures I took on last year’s hike.

No Glory

It really chapped my ass to read the story on the front page of today’s paper, about the big movie production studio which is planned to be built next to the Lafitte housing project.

I’m not opposed to the project — I see it as a hugely positive boon to the neighborhood. The inclusion of a vocational school is great.

What irritates me is that I learned about this three months ago. Continue reading “No Glory”

Three Mile Hike

Route

Michael H. and David B. and I went for a three-mile hike along an abandoned railway corridor that cuts through Mid-City. We think it’s an excellent candidate for a rails-to-trails conversion. This was an just initial exploratory scoping. More to come. (I took a couple hundred photos!)

Three Mile Hike

I also got a sunburn.