Rebuilding the Parks of New Orleans: Despite Katrina's Devastation, New Orleans Is Taking a Unique Opportunity to Create a Functional Master Plan for Parks to Reclaim Its Place among the Premier Park Systems in the Country

Article excerpt

In 2005, before the August arrival of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans boasted one of the premier park systems in the nation.Then came Katrina, enormously damaging the city's parks and recreation resources. Planners from multiple organizations involved in the process of rebuilding the parks and recreation infrastructure recognize that parks and green spaces, recreational areas, and shared community spaces are critical for residents wanting to recover, reconnect, and rebuild their neighborhoods.

The saga of its gallant fight to recover from the storm testifies to the resilience of New Orleans and the healing role that parks can play in a time of extraordinary psychological stress. No city in the country is in more need of the physical and psychological benefits that parks can offer. Much remains in ruins, and less than half of the pre-Katrina population of 485,000 has returned. Many who did stay or returned are still suffering. According to a June 2006 report in The New York Times, "New Orleans is experiencing what appears to be a near epidemic of depression and post-traumatic stress disorders, one that mental health experts say is of an intensity rarely seen in this country."

Hope for a Better Park System

Often, triumph emanates from tragedy and lessons learned serve as a springboard to progress, improved planning efforts, and increased stewardship of scarce resources. In a recent article at The Trust for Public Land (TPL) Web site, "Parks for the New New Orleans," one prominent citizen has the following to say:

   "New Orleans has been handed a unique and rare opportunity to
    utilize  parks as a catalyst for rebuilding our city," said
    developer Joseph Canizaro, who also serves on TPL's New Orleans
    Advisory Council, of which he was founding chair. "We need to
    utilize every incentive that can be offered to stimulate our
    economic recovery. It has been proven time and time again, across
    the nation, that parks and open space do exactly that.

In light of the tremendous amount of damage done to the city's parks, city officials and residents could only be hopeful about the development of a new and improved system. More than eighteen months after revitalization efforts began, many have watched and scrutinized plans for revamped parks in New

Orleans. TPL, one such organization, has actively chronicled city efforts to revive its decimated park system.

Hurricane Katrina was unquestionably a disaster for the city of New Orleans, but the rebuilding process presents unprecedented opportunities to create a model city with a new park system as a unifying element. New Orleans has several unique urban parks-City Park and Audubon Park, for example-that are centrally located, but it does not have an abundance of neighborhood parks. Therein lies an opportunity to build a park system that systematically conjoins the city. In the midst of this monumental rebuilding initiative, this value cannot be forgotten. Major cities across the country have learned the value of parks and are in various stages of retrofitting green space into the urban fabric. Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, NewYork, and Indianapolis are replacing dilapidated infrastructure with new green space, parks, and trails.

In the same TPL article, Ron Sims, executive of King County, Washington, and a staunch advocate of park development in Puget Sound country commented:

   "New Orleans has a great opportunity to create a model
   city where people go and say 'Wow, they did it right. Parks
   are an essential part of the infrastructure. Good neighborhoods
   have them and bad ones don't. A great people
   doesn't rebuild past mistakes. New Orleans officials have
   to have vision, a vision that promises people a better future.
   And nothing enhances the value of the urban experience
   more than a walkable city with trails and parks."

Alex Garvin, a principal with the New York City-based planning firm Alex Garvin &Associates, makes the case for park enhancement of property values in his book, The American City: What Works, What Doesn't, but he also emphasizes the health and utilitarian benefits of parks, especially in New Orleans. …