Greening New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward

By Priya Chhaya posted 12-28-2015 10:37

 CSED staff and volunteers lead the way in creating a new fruit orchard for the Lower 9th Ward @ 4817-4819 Dauphine Street. | Credit: Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development

CSED staff and volunteers lead the way in creating a new fruit orchardfor the Lower 9th Ward @ 4817-4819 Dauphine Street. | Credit: Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development

Founded in December 2006, the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development (CSED) is devoted to restoring New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward as a safe, environmentally just and economically vibrant community – and one of the first to become carbon-neutral in North America. The CSED began as a project of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association with start-up funding and support from Mercy Corps, Blue Moon Fund, Tulane/Xavier Center for Bioenvironmental Research, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, the Sierra Club among others. CSED benefits residents of the Lower Ninth Ward. Data from 2006 indicates that 100% of Lower 9th (L9) homes and businesses sustained significant damage or destruction and 100% of the population was displaced by Post-Hurricane Katrina flooding due to the failure of the federal levee system. The 2010 Census data indicates approximately 5,556 of 17,000 pre-flood residents have returned to live in the community.

The Preservation Green Lab recently asked Arthur Johnson, CEO of CSED, to answer a few questions about the work of CSED, their work with The Center, a sustainable historic house project (which was built, in part, with money from a 2014 Kickstarter campaign) in the Lower Ninth Ward, and climate resilience in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans.

What sort of projects do you work on? Do you have an overall vision for the Ninth Ward?

The CSED is working towards the sustainable restoration of the Lower Ninth Ward. We advocate for and work to improve food security for L9 residents. This includes development of urban agriculture initiatives, support of community gardens and the replanting of our tree canopy. The recovery of our built environment is supported by CSED’s weatherization and radiant barrier program. We work to help residents sustainably recover their homes, address blight issues, abandoned properties and advocate for deconstruction rather than demolition so that our valuable building materials are recycled. We advocate for coastal resiliency, the restoration of L9’s natural defense system wetlands and the re-connection of residents to our waterways and bayous.

How do you see your work intersecting with historic preservation?

CSED’ mission and purpose is to stimulate civic engagement and restorative rebuilding, repopulate, sustain natural systems, assist community leadership and preserve resources in New Orleans ’ Lower Ninth Ward neighborhoods. The CSED provides community-based support to residents of the Lower 9th Ward from “River to Bayou” in all aspects of sustainability for area neighborhoods as part of long-term recovery and rebuilding efforts. CSED’s goal is re-creation and re-population of a strong community mindful of its history, resources and vulnerabilities [and to make the neighborhood] as active, engaged, resilient, prosperous, energy independent and beautiful as possible.

 Exterior of The Center. | Credit: CSED
 Exterior of The Center. | Credit: CSED

Tell us about The Center – how did this idea, to build a sustainable historic house come about?
With the donation of 5227 Chartres, the CSED took this unique opportunity to remodel a 150 year old historic barge board house into an Energy Efficiency (EE) Educational Center and CSED office.  This idea was initiated because of the need to address energy efficiency and housing renovation requests from residents that we served. The space showcase’s energy efficiency upgrades and serves as an educational center for the community. The house was remodeled, mostly with volunteer labor, keeping with its original barge board design. The EE Center is equipped with truth windows giving guest the ability to ‘peak through’ the construction and see the types of EE upgrades that have been made to the house. Placards will accompany the truth windows explaining the EE upgrades, their benefits, and amount of savings as a result of the upgrade. Finally, the EE Educational Center will have a room dedicated to teaching classes and DIY workshops to the community.

Energy Efficiency Upgrades Showcased in Chartres House:

  • Polyiso Insulation at ceiling ,walls and floors
  • House Perimeter Shading or Awnings to Keep Heat Out
  • Rain Catchment
  • Energy Efficient Lighting
  • Energy Efficient Appliances
  • Low Flow Faucets
  • Mini-split Small Super-Efficient HVAC System
  • Back Yard Gardening - Citrus Food Production for Consumption (canning)

What are some pitfalls and surprises you found as this project developed?

Renovation and construction cost went over-estimate. City and historic district permitting challenges took way more time and effort to achieve. The financial strain on CSED was severe in an effort of bringing the Center on-line and continuing its operations and mission at the same time.

What’s going at the Center now?

The Center continues to be used as a space of engagement and learning. We are in the process of planning courses that focus on energy use and saving, including some classes for kids on building wind turbines and solar race cars.

 Aeriel view of the Lower 9th Ward in 2011. | Credit: Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development

Aeriel view of the Lower 9th Ward in 2011. | Credit: Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development

How is CSED addressing climate resilience in vulnerable communities?

CSED is using its marketing and communication efforts to increase awareness about climate change, climate resiliency and environmental impact of climate on vulnerable and under served communities like the Lower 9th Ward and other neighborhoods in the greater New Orleans area.  Local residents are becoming more interested and knowledgeable about the importance of climate as it relates to their neighborhoods, communities and quality of life. This education spills out to every area important to the well-being of a residential community such as, education, economic development, recreation, housing and sustainability. CSED continues to advocate about how climate affects the impact of under served life styles even at a greater level because of the lack of financial and economic resources in these communities as compared to more affluent areas. For example, being on a fixed income limits the capability of making major life-style changes or recovering from unexpected developments.

How do community members see climate impacting community issues – both residential and employment opportunities?

Community leaders are realizing the important role that climate and environment play in the development of whole and sustainable communities and neighborhoods. Residential enhancement and growth are dependent of realizing the overall impact attributed to the significant development of climate change in New Orleans. How we address the needs in our community is directly linked to environmental awareness and the results of solutions that emerge from this engagement.  Total community engagement is necessary to make a difference. This includes public, private and nonprofit coalitions working together. The community leaders are very concerned about economic development and job opportunities that must grow out of these discussions to feed our needy neighborhoods!

Are there neighborhood or district level sustainability models that you’re looking to implement?

CSED always looks to review community models that are significant to addressing the needs and issues in the New Orleans areas.   However, many national groups have looked at us to provide them with models and examples of sustainability. We like to link our experiences and their interest together as a unit to address the needs in our communities. We are just beginning to make many of these connections, regionally and nationally. The best is yet to come as we see it! Water management, coastal restoration and development are a few of the areas picking up momentum in the last several years. We are starting to gain respect and are being taken seriously in the climate and environmental arenas.  A significant indicator has been gaining the interest of Local and State government agencies and task forces to visit the Lower Ninth Ward coastal wetland (Bayou Bienvenue) in an effort to learn more about coastal needs in an urban community. I attribute their interest and movement to one-on-one dialogue and educated residents making an appeal. However, more needs to happen!

To learn more about the work of CSED visit their website and follow them on Twitter @sustainthenine or on Facebook.

#SustainableCommunities #ClimateChange #Sustainability

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