NOLAmotion Blog

March 17, 2009

Paving N.O. City Park

As I write this, N.O. City Park (NOCP) is laying 4800 linear feet of 8 foot wide impermeable asphalt pathways in its Big Lake construction project. Also, construction crews are demolishing old parking and tennis courts between the Peristyle and Botanical Gardens to install yet more, polluting, impermeable, heat-inducing asphalt.

With all that we know about permeable paving and better stormwater management, this old fashioned, 20th century, car-oriented thinking is mind boggling. And to watch all this happen in one of the most precious places in the world, utilizing money donated from people who surely hoped we’d do the best we could to build with a strong sense of ecological awareness, is an abuse which I can find no diplomatic words to describe. I leave it to you to express, exclaim and accuse. As with so many things in the public realm–and NOCP is a public park whose staff is on the state payroll–we all share some of the blame.

I sent the following letter to Sally Perry, VP of the board of the New Orleans City Park Improvement Association (NOCPIA). I encourage readers to contact the NOCPIA and elected officials and demand that NOCP be the most innovative, sustainable park it can be.

Hi Sally:

So glad to reconnect and also happy that you were at the hearing. I’m not a golfer; but I don’t want to turn City Park into a feral landscape, either. There is a balance. A win-win can be achieved. However, I believe the plans as they now stand reflect outmoded thinking; an almost Eisenhower era-style of planning where development is done the way it always has been with cars and “drainage” as primary considerations.

Regarding NOCP drainage, the question starts with “to where?” And the dominoes of watershed realities expand outward for many, many miles. These realities must be understood and built-into all design considerations for our region, not just NOCP. David Waggoner knows so much about this thanks to his personal mission to interact with and learn from the Dutch. Is he part of the design team?

The current attitude seems to be the old “it’s too expensive” brush-off based on little research. We know so much more about ecological management, watersheds, and how to make design regenerative rather than just durable. What the park team needs is a change of thinking. And impervious asphalt and concrete need to be perceived as counterproductive.

We desperately need sustainability/green leadership to help redesign all plans to maximize innovation. City Park would then become a center for excellence in sustainable park design and implementation, something I believe would not only make the park more economically feasible and attractive to the world; but, something I also believe the world expects us to do with their contributions of time and money. And such a turn of thinking would open many more doors of support from myriad foundations and organizations.

The park has no green leader. It apparently has no strong green connections to the rapidly growing body of local professionals available to research, develop and implement best practices for sustainable, low impact design. And with nobody on the staff or board demanding innovation, how can anyone be expected to innovate?

Imagine if NOCP were to become a world leader in sustainable park design and operations, a true community partner in the education, health and well-being of the region. A place where people gathered not only for peaceful beauty but to learn how to live better, how to grow food, how to implement landscaping principles that healthily interact with the surrounding watershed, how to make a park thrive while maintaining its ecological balance and reducing the negative impact of parking, buildings, recreational facilities and golf courses. Now that would be an economic driver that could lead to sustaining the fiscal future of NOCP!

And sustainable is as much about the green of money as it is the green of the landscape. NOCP could be the best municipal park on the planet.

Mistakes we make now will not be ours to live with, they will be faced by our children and theirs. But, when we kill an ancient oak because we added too much impervious asphalt and concrete, or kill a cypress because we failed to maintain fresh water systems by assuming high saline water from the bayou was good, we commit two crimes: we assault our history and we steal from the future. Adding more heat-inducing, polluting, impermeable asphalt and concrete is a crime against the future. The cost must be measured in more than just today’s dollars.

It’s time to stop and look at what we’re doing. It’s time to make sustainable, low impact design the highest priority of planning.

Look at the makeup of the board and staff. Where is the diversity of thought, age and race that reflects New Orleans? Where are the young innovators who will lead us tomorrow? It will be their park, sooner than you or I want to admit.

I would be thrilled to be of assistance in any and every way possible in helping make NOCP the greenest park on earth. However it will take the leadership of the NOCPIA board to make anything happen. Feel free to call upon me at any time, and to share my thoughts with the rest of the board.

Respectfully yours,
Steve Picou

Additional Links:

N.O. City Park Master Plan

Board of Commissioners of N.O. City Park Improvement Assn (a state agency, list needs updating)

March 3, 2009

State Invests $100 Million in Film and Damned Near Nothing in Music

OK, so the numbers are in and, as reported today in the Shreveport Times, in 2007 Louisiana invested $100,000,000 in film (after recouping $14m in taxes) on $429,000,000 of film spending. Of course verifying these numbers, particularly the spending by film companies, is a fuzzy math situation in which we remain dependent upon the film companies themselves to report their spending, so I have my doubts as to the accuracy.

Can you imagine that if you were an investor in the film industry, say in a film fund, how much of a long term return your money might be getting? You’d be getting checks for the rest of your life and that of your heirs if you had spent $100 million in a film investment vehicle that spread your investments around the industry. But what does Louisiana get? One time, poorly validated “spending” by these companies that results in short-term jobs averaging $32,000. But we look good on camera!

If this is such a good investment, why don’t we do it for music? In fact, why don’t we do it for every business in Louisiana. If the state can directly spend a dollar and get back four, why not spend on restaurants, grocery stores, construction companies, or any business? Because it defies the laws of physics and economics. You can’t create a perpetual motion machine and you can’t use public money to create perpetual economic engines. For the public to benefit, any expenditure needs to produce more in tax revenues than it spends. Just as too many calories make you fat, too much spending makes you broke. No matter how you extend the numbers to “secondary spending” you cannot ignore the fact that more money is being taken from public coffers than is being replenished.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: where’s Louisiana’s share? If individuals invested this much money in the film business, they’d be getting a a piece of the action, a return on investment. Why is this not possible for public investment?

Music is our true asset. Though we welcome Hollywood and the movie industry, it is not one of Louisiana’s naturally occurring assets. Music is our calling card to the hearts, minds and wallets of the world. Yet we continue to allow it to flounder, leaderless, budget-less and without accountability for what little is being done. The press and public remain silent about the ongoing tragedy that is the Louisiana Music Commission.

Here’s the kind of readily available information that used to be produced by the LMC and which was publicly available on the web until 2006 when the years of undermining by a small, avaricious group empowered by soon-to-be-jailed former Louisiana Economic Development (LED) Entertainment director Mark Smith and other cohorts finally prevailed in destroying the LMC:

Economic Impact of the Louisiana Music Industry Analyzed by City

LMC Summary Report 1992-2003

In fact, let me state this: former LED secretaries Don Hutchinson and Mike Olivier, along with Gov. Kathleen Blanco and the aforementioned Mark Smith were to music what the US Army Corps of Engineers was to flood protection in New Orleans in 2005–a massive disaster with ongoing consequences that will affect future generations.

Of course, I could be wrong. In fact, I hope I am. Someone, please convince me that I’m wrong about all this and that Louisiana is better off because of these things. I’m a reasonable person.

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