In the News

With neighbors’ help, row of empty lots becomes a small, tidy woods

Katy Reckdahl|Special to the Advocate 

July 1, 2015


Ten years ago, a family headed by two doctors owned a row of three houses along a strip of Chantilly Drive in New Orleans East.

The homes were bordered by a canopy of trees and a neat brick wall with lights on the top. Often, the air would be filled with the sounds of neighbors laughing and splashing in a swimming pool behind the fence.

But the houses and the wall were torn down after the flood that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The trees died after sitting in the salt water that covered this part of eastern New Orleans for weeks after the storm.

So when Lawrence and Barbara Banks returned from Katrina exile and looked out their front window, they saw nothing but devastation. The lots were empty and quiet. Often, the foliage was wild, Barbara Banks, 65, recalled.

“After Katrina, it was nothing but a big sea of grass and weeds,” she said. “And every day, I’d walk outside and think of what used to be there.”

Urban forest revitalizes overgrown, neglected lot in New Orleans East


Urban Forest
Lawrence and Barbara Banks stand in front of the Urban Forest, 216 trees that have been built on a lot in New Orleans East that was neglected after Hurricane Katrina. Mr. Banks dreamt up the project and the New Orleans Redevelopment Agency helped make it a reality. (Photo by Shelby Hartman, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)
By Shelby Hartman, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune 
on June 30, 2015 at 2:41 PM, updated June 30, 2015 at 3:14 PM

A stroll down Chantilly Drive in New Orleans East is like walking onto the film set of a 1960s suburban family sitcom. One-story brick homes with trim lawns and white mailboxes make it easy to forget the neighborhood was all but destroyed in the flooding after Hurricane Katrina.

Soon, the end of the block will have something more atypical: a canopy of red, gold and orange leaves inspired by the Northeastern fall.

Pieces Coming Together for Unique Jack & Jake’s Public Market in Old New Orleans Schoolhouse


From the street it still looks like a schoolhouse. But inside the former Myrtle Banks Elementary at 1300 O.C. Haley Boulevard, the pieces coming together for the planned Jack & Jake's Public Market augur a very different future for the historic Central City building.

Slated to open within the next six weeks, this multifaceted project combines elements of a grocery store and a farmers market. It will include two distinct restaurant concepts, a bar, an oyster bar and a coffee bar. And it will have a large teaching kitchen and numerous event spaces. It's all under the banner of Jack & Jake's, a New Orleans-based wholesaler that supplies food from regional farmers and fisheries to schools, hospitals and other institutions.

"I don't call it a grocery, I don't even like to call it a market, it's a food hub," said company founder and CEO John Burns Jr. "It will be the retail side of what we do."

It's certainly intended to serve as a grocery, though built to different specs than the conventional supermarket. It's one where locally-sourced fresh foods predominate, where pantry staples play a supporting role (to round out the shopping basket with baby food, say, or foil wrap) and where frozen foods are minimal.

It's also a market with restaurant and café seating built across its various indoor and outdoor areas and with its own chef at the helm in the kitchen. Ben Thibodeaux, most recently executive chef at Tableau, is overseeing the restaurant menus, the take-home fare at the retail counters and other culinary aspects of the operation that covers some 23,000 square feet.


When Lawrence Banks walked out of his New Orleans East home, he could barely stand the sight across the street – five empty Hurricane Katrina overgrown lots, with weeds, rodents and garbage.

"It offered me just a depressing view of my neighborhood," he said. "I believed there could be something better."

So three years ago he started writing letters to NORA, the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, which owned the properties. He hoped to gain control, for he had a vision of an urban forest.

"Of some nice trees, trees that would change colors in the fall."

Banks and his wife didn't qualify through any programs to buy the properties, but NORA took his idea and ran with it, and today his urban forest now sits along Chantilly Drive.

Officially it's the NORA Green Project. There are 216 trees, eight different species and an in-ground irrigation system where each tree has its own supply, a limestone pathway, benches and a wooden fence.

Post-Katrina Lessons in Building a Stronger Community: Kenneth Schwartz


kale at grow dat1.jpg

In this file photo from April 2015, wildflowers edge one of the plots growing kale at the Grow Dat Youth Farm. (Judy Walker, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)
Contributing Op-Ed columnistBy Contributing Op-Ed columnist 
on May 15, 2015 at 11:39 AM

Grow Dat Youth Farm's mission is to nurture a diverse group of young leaders through the meaningful work of growing food. Tulane City Center students designed and constructed an award-winning eco campus housing a teaching kitchen, offices, composting toilets, produce storage and farm support spaces. In 2014, the program's teenagers, from six partner schools across New Orleans, grew 12,000 pounds of food: 60 percent was sold and 40 percent shared through donation, barter or subsidized sale.
From its roots as the St. Bernard Market, Circle Food Store had served as a community hub for generations before photographs of the flooded store became iconic visuals of Hurricane Katrina and the levee breaches. Tulane City Center worked with business owner Dwayne Boudreaux to develop the tools to help him advocate for renewed investment in his historic grocery. This $8 million renovation restored a community icon and brings food access back to the 7th Ward.
Our students and faculty helped to launch this project at an early stage when few people held out hope for this important institution's revival. Tulane University alumnus John Williams served as the lead architect in realizing Mr. Boudreaux's vision.
Through the Tulane City Center, the Tulane School of Architecture's community design center, students and faculty have advanced the design and construction of more than 80 projects across New Orleans. Each project begins as a proposal from a nonprofit organization and is developed in partnership with the organization's constituents. Through our partners, these projects contribute to healing, sheltering and serving our citizens. There is an amazing spirit of collaboration and commitment at work.
TCC's work addresses the key issues in New Orleans: expanding access to neighborhood resources, improving urban systems, celebrating our cultural heritage and promoting healthy communities. Our design work, whether a visual narrative or a built structure, provides a targeted contribution to advancing the ongoing efforts of our partner organizations. Grow Dat Youth Farm and Circle Foods are two projects completed in 2012 with different approaches to addressing food access in the city. In both instances, the School of Architecture's contribution at a key early moment leveraged much larger results through collaboration.
The design support from TCC has spurred additional reinvestment in the city as well:
Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative: TCC's 2011 research and design study helped the Jane Place initiative pursue partnerships in support of its 2739 Palmyra Project, a $1.2 million redevelopment that will provide affordable housing and bring a new model for sustainable communities to Mid-City. The project broke ground this April.
New Orleans Redevelopment Authority's Facade RENEW: Through NORA's support, TCC is providing free design services to business and property owners applying to NORA's Facade RENEW program, which represents $1 million of investment in revitalizing storefronts in four targeted historic commercial corridors across the city.  
The students, faculty and staff of the School of Architecture, supported by a courageous and progressive university administration, have worked toward recovery and revitalization since returning to campus after Katrina in January 2006. We have been in good company; many schools of architecture came to New Orleans and performed heroic work in the first few years after the disaster. Many were motivated by the dire situation and were trying to fill the vacuum produced by government's abject failure at every level to address fundamental needs of the citizens of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast before and after the catastrophe.
To this day, Tulane architecture students continue to address the issues facing New Orleans while striving for aspirations of beauty, sustainability and social justice. It is heartening to see the students embrace the lessons of a strong architectural education in the unique context of their city. Through applied research and action, they are enhancing the positive impact of design through engagement. They also are deepening their understanding that what is built must be informed by tangible human experience.
Our school is distinctive in the way we have embraced the creative potential of rebuilding New Orleans. Community engagement has become fundamentally ingrained in our school, as key aspects of academic rigor and developing professional ethics. Our students learn that good designers are good citizens. They recognize the relevance of connecting their skills with pressing community and global issues. This is "social innovation" at its very best, and I am proud of the constructive legacy they have created through their individual and collective efforts.
We are not only collaborating in building community, the Tulane School of Architecture is educating a new model of engaged professional: humble, inclusive, creative, collaborative, empathetic and dedicated to the idea that design matters in the many challenges faced by New Orleans and our nation.
Kenneth Schwartz is Favrot professor and dean of Tulane University School of Architecture.


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