Destination of the Week: New Orleans
Nearly four years after Hurricane Katrina, it's getting easier to be green in the Big Easy.
Sat, Jul 25, 2009 at 05:53 AM
New Orleans is known for its revelry and excess — during Mardi Gras, of course, and just about any night in the French Quarter. While the city's joie de vivre ("joy of living") attitude ensures good times, environmental consciousness can get lost beneath the carpet of plastic cups littered across Bourbon Street. Still, underneath the beads and booze, the Crescent City has a heart of green.
Building — and rebuilding — has been at the forefront of New Orleans' agenda since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. And as the Associated Press reported earlier this year, "the hurricane created a testing ground for [sustainable] ideas and initiatives."
Actor-turned-philanthropist Brad Pitt became an icon of New Orleans' green development movement by spearheading the Make it Right Foundation. Partnering with leaders in environmental design, sustainable redevelopment and community organization, Pitt's foundation works for rebuilding a more sustainable Lower Ninth Ward — arguably the hardest hit neighborhood in the city.
Meanwhile, several other organizations continue to champion the green building cause — the Green Project sells "high-quality, salvaged building materials at low cost to the community," Green Coast Enterprises designs buildings that are both storm-resilient and environmentally friendly, and Bio Liberty LLC focuses on biodiesel and renewable energy, along with green building projects.
This past March, more than 400 sustainability-minded students and young professionals met at Historic Green, a 10-day event focused on volunteerism, historic preservation and community redevelopment.
From promoting the city's first "edible schoolyard" to teaching residents how to compost or repurpose clothes, Go Green NOLA is the city's go-to online resource for environmental ideas and resources. The site also features a running list of upcoming local eco-events in the area, like the Westwego Farmers' Market.
Green Light New Orleans helps low and fixed-income residents switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs. The organization's goal is to change each of the city's 3 million bulbs, reducing CO2 emissions by 600,000 tons.
Thirty-nine buses in New Orleans' fleet are now hybrid, thanks to a $15 million federal grant. The buses run on a combination of biodiesel, gasoline and electric power. And while many New Orleans residents still get around by car, biking recently became significantly more convenient. The number of bicycle routes in the Big Easy doubled in 2008, from 10 to 20 miles. The New Orleans Bike Club promotes bicycling for sport and hobby, while Rusted Up Beyond All Recognition Bikes is a volunteer-run organization and bike shop founded in the Ninth Ward. According to RUBARB's website, the organization began in 2006 as an effort to rescue, repair and reuse "flood bikes."
While some foods in New Orleans are intensely seasonal (crawfish, for example) the Big Easy is not known for a green restaurant scene. Even the vegetarian restaurant in town, Café Bamboo, stays loyal to the South's stick-to-your-ribs soul-food model. Chik'n strips, anyone?
For produce lovers, however, there are plenty of options to buy — or grow — fresh, local grub. The New Orleans Food & Farm Network works for equal access to nourishing food, and fosters farming and gardening within city limits. This November, it will host a series of agricultural trainings called Grow Mo' Betta, designed to expand the number of New Orleans growers.
The Mid-City Community Garden welcomes neighborhood members to grow and sell food and added value products (like pickles!). Local food lovers can also stock up at the Hollygrove Growers Market and Farm, a nonprofit retail store that sells locally grown and organic produce. Meanwhile, plans are in the works to open a food cooperative in town by the end of 2010.
College-bound students can take advantage of many environmental programs on the city's three primary campuses. Tulane features degree programs in environmental studies and ecology and evolutionary biology, and coursework ranging from historical ecology to urban environmental law. Loyola boasts a Center for Environmental Communication and a Center for Environmental Law and Land Use, and offers courses in topics such as preservation studies, spirituality of nature writing and tropical biology. University of New Orleans students have a number of opportunities to study environmental sciences and urban planning, and can select from classes including geomorphology and environmental geology of coastal Louisiana. Isn't college life grand?
For nonmatriculating students, the design association AIGA hosts the Green Salon — an all-day event that features discussions and presentations about the "nature of sustainability" in New Orleans, along with plenty of food, music and Big Easy-style celebration.
Greenspace in New Orleans is abundant. Audubon Park offers a place to relax and picnic among old oak trees and a diverse population of birds including egrets, blue herons and black-bellied whistling ducks. (Avid people-watchers can also spend hours observing the bird-watchers observing the birds.) The park is also home to the Audubon Zoo.
In addition to being home to a botanical garden and the New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans City Park boasts 1,300 acres of greenspace. Sadly, the park was seriously damaged by Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed most of its older trees. But plans to restore the park and its forest canopy are under way — with the help of volunteers, park officials are working to restore the area, double the size of the former forest from 33 to 60 acres.
Established in 1982, the nonprofit organization Parkway Partners works with residents to preserve and beautify the city's greenspaces, parks, community gardens and playgrounds. Its Urban Tree Project will help replant the 50,000 trees lost around the city's public spaces during Katrina.
Also on MNN:
MNN homepage photo: TravelingMermaid/Flickr