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.

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.

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