Cross-Sector Collaboration Relieves Flooding in Lower Garden District
Partnerships between nonprofits and the private sector seem to be blossoming like flowers in our short, sweet southeast Louisiana spring. Last month in this space, you read about Faubourg Brewing and the Mardi Gras Indian Council; today’s story spotlights a different collaboration between the Avenue Pub and Groundwork New Orleans.
Groundwork focuses on installing green infrastructure in both residential and commercial settings. In the process, it provides workforce training for young people, with apprenticeships that can lead to formal green infrastructure certifications.
The Avenue Pub, a longtime fixture on St. Charles Avenue in the Lower Garden District, has become the premier watering hole for aficionados of the finest craft beers from all over the world. More on this New Orleans institution in a couple weeks.
Avenue Pub owner Polly Watts lives near her business, a few blocks away on Prytania Street. Her neighborhood has always been susceptible to flooding, but she saw the waters begin to rise higher and more often.
“We’re kind of in a bowl,” she explained, “and every time the city does more work on St. Charles, it sends more water to Prytania.”
Add to this the increasing frequency and intensity of typical New Orleans summer rains, and the problem began rising to the level of an existential threat. So Watts contacted Groundwork for help.
“Polly came to us and said she had $20,000 for a project,” recalled Todd Reynolds, the organization’s executive Director. “So we got a group together, visualized, drew up the project. We worked with Dana Brown to get the drawings together. We wanted to finish the plans before going to the city. We didn’t want to permit a little piece here and a little piece there.
“The area was a hodge-podge of broken concrete and paved over rights of way,” he continued. “There was about four thousand square feet of unnecessary concrete, and any time it rained, the street flooded.”
Fully fleshed out, the “Green Block” project plan addressed water management issues along Prytania from Euterpe Street to Polymnia Street, then up Polymnia to St. Charles. But there was one little problem: Watts’ initial contribution was a fraction of the estimated cost.
“So we started to shop the project around,” said Reynolds. “The Greater New Orleans Foundation came up with $60,000 for us. The Kresge Foundation kicked in $10,000. We got another $5000 from the Urban Conservancy’s Front Yard Initiative.”
Meanwhile, Watts approached her neighbors about the project. “They saw the water getting deeper and deeper after the rains, so it was pretty easy to get them on board,” she reported. “The project obviously needed to be done.”
Several neighbors added financial contributions of their own, bringing the total funds up to what was needed to do the work.
Step one was to remove as much concrete as possible, especially between the sidewalks and the street. Where feasible, further excavation was done. To complete the project – phase one is scheduled to wrap up in mid-May – rain gardens and bioswales are being installed wherever possible, and native, water-absorbent trees will be planted. Where repaving is necessary, permeable paving techniques will be use used. And the vast majority of the work is being performed by participants in Groundwork’s workforce development program.
Reynolds projects that when finished, the Prytania Street section will hold close to 28,000 gallons of water. “This will substantially reduce the amount of stormwater that would otherwise go into the catch basins and the drainage system,” he noted.
While it might be a stretch to say that Watts and Reynolds can’t wait for the next big rain, they are looking forward to seeing their work and investment pay dividends in the form of reducing the flooding in a vulnerable area. But both see considerable value beyond this obvious measure.
“Groundwork provides practical experience in what these young people learn about installing green infrastructure,” he stated. “They get trained and they leave behind tangible community assets.”
“The real value is not only fixing my block, but educating the next generation in how to do things,” added Watts, who has lived there for several decades. “I want to leave it better than I found it.”