Gross Mismanagement of Events and Park Resources Raise Questions of Stewardship and Concerns for Public Safety at New Orleans City Park
I haven’t been doing my job. I’m sorry. I didn’t ask for this job. But it seems I have no choice. You see, years ago this site was a place where I spent a disproportionate amount of my time blogging about the lack of stewardship of one of the most precious and beautiful parks in the world, New Orleans City Park. You can re-read the stories here, here, here, here, here, here–-ok, ok, I know, you get the picture. But evidently the board and administrators of the park still don’t. And I’m at my wit’s end.
Today, we headed to the Festival Grounds, a section of the park where a golf course was converted into a site for events. A site that, quite laudably, was developed using Sustainable Sites guidelines. Since its completion, however, the lack of oversight by park administration of events there leaves me speechless. Well almost. I frankly don’t know where to begin, there are so many violations of common sense, stewardship, public safety, and the park’s own rules.
A popular fundraising event took place today, NOLA On Tap (“The Largest Free Beer Fest in the Region!”). It supports a good cause, the Louisiana SPCA, an organization that built a very green building and that cares deeply about not only animals, but for Louisiana. However, the organizers of today’s event were lax in managing parking and public safety, and the park was lax (once again, if there’s one thing they’re consistent at, it’s mismanaging the impact and operations of big events), in enforcing the rules for parking and protecting the trees and soil. But this event was the worst I’ve seen. Cars and trucks were not only parking under trees, but driving (speeding in some cases) on the pedestrian path around the Big Lake, between strollers, walkers and bicyclists to get to and from the illegal parking. I struggle to find the words to describe how appalling and dangerous this was (and we were there during daylight, as evening fell, the danger surely increased).
I don’t know how to express how sad, how threatening, and how wrong this latest incident is in the plethora of mismanagement and harm done to the park over the past decade by the misplaced priorities of the park’s board and administration. For now, here are the pictures of today’s transgressions. If you can find the words to explain this or to put the ongoing mismanagement into perspective, I invite your input. I can only say that I remain deeply frustrated.
A story in the Times-Picayune tells the sad tale of the death of yet another benevolent giant live oak in Louisiana. This time, it was a revered tree in Old Mandeville, killed by the usual suspect–humans. Yet the writer and the so-called expert got it all wrong. This tree did not die a natural death, it was a slow-motion murder by pavement and development. It didn’t have to happen, and it doesn’t have to continue to happen, but it will.
We lack the common sense to be responsible stewards of our landscape. To some, this isn’t a big deal. But the fact is, we will die if we continue to fail to address our ignorance. That tree is just one of thousands of ancient oaks lost to development. In too many cases, “tree coffins,” those concrete boxes in the sidewalk or parking lot in which we expect trees to “live” are ultimately the cause of their deaths. You see it everywhere, from downtown streets to mall lots, older trees getting scraggly and dying in these small set-asides. It’s just plain stupid.
I’d love to do a documentary on this subject if anyone out there is interested in helping. It’s long overdue.
And here are the comments I posted:
It is clear that development under the canopy is what killed that tree. To have a concrete curb within mere feet of the trunk means that the root system was damaged, ripped up and smothered by paving. The number one cause of the death of urban trees is soil compaction. Older trees, that grew without interference for decades, are particularly sensitive to disturbance of their root zones. Think of a tree as a closed system where the roots recycle the fallen leaves and act like both lungs and intestines, processing nutrients, water and air in a metabolic system. Then imagine machines, shovels, people, digging, covering, and sealing this system. It often takes decades for these trees to die.
Look at the large trees in Old Metairie, surrounded by pavement. They are spindly, which means the tree is shutting down branch systems in its attempts to adjust. Trees are like submarines or ships with watertight doors that close to protect the rest of the vessel. When you see dead branches, those branches are shut down and will not become leafy again.
That tree in Old Mandeville was murdered by progress. It died a slow and public death. It did not die of old age. It died of ignorance, neglect, and by the assault of human development.
The good news is that we know better and can do better. But it is too late for many of these sentient giants in whose branches we can sense the touch of the divine. Older trees need and deserve protection and that means public policies that honor their roles in the health and wellbeing of the land that supports and nurtures us. We need to give older trees space. The top 18 inches of soil where most of the life-giving aspects of biology give rise to not only trees, but us. We need to understand that soil is alive and that trees–and humans–need healthy, loose, alive soil if we are to thrive.
Guidry is wrong. It was somebody’s fault, a very long time ago, when they failed to care about the space that tree needed, and put concrete and pavement over its roots, and began a process of starvation and strangulation that weakened it and caused it to die sooner than it should have. We killed this tree, probably generations ago, when we built the roads and sidewalks over its most sensitive space, its root systems.
But it’s not just about protection, if we are to have good public infrastructure and healthy communities to serve future generations, we need to understand that we must put the right tree, in the right place, planted at the right time. And that means a broader variety of native species, not more crape myrtles, and not live oaks planted in small spaces between sidewalks and roads and under power lines. This, too, is foolhardy.
Until we become better educated about tree biology and implement policies that protect older trees and guide future plantings, many more will die. And we lose something of ourselves every time.
And here’s a picture of a tree killed by development after Katrina, since this article needs a dead tree and I’m not going to use the T-P’s pic.
It’s official. The first new recordings by Bas Clas in more than 20 years will be released on Earth Day, Sunday April 22. The 7 song CD is titled “Big Oak Tree” and features a mix of old and new songs all recorded at Dockside Studio in August 2011 with engineer David Farrell. Featuring an expanded lineup that includes Eric Adcock on keyboards, Dickie Landry on sax, and backing vocals from Leslie Smith and Mike Picou, the tunes range from crunchy rockers to a Cajun-flavored tale of life and loss (from which the title was gleaned) that features Roddie Romero on accordion, David Greely and Mitch Reed on fiddles, and Christine Balfa on triangle. The band will be performing at Festival International du Louisiane in Lafayette on Thursday, April 26 at 6pm and the following night (Fri, Apr 27) at The Wild Salmon, also in Lafayette.
This week an 18 wheeler delivered a truckload of plants for the final stages of The Great Concrete Lawn in City Park. This multi-million dollar project sure provided a lot of money and work. That’s economic development. And that truckload of plants sure helped keep people employed—in Florida!
As the photo shows, a truckload of non-native species plants was delivered from a company with locations in Wisconsin and Florida. Cashio Cochran LLC, whose designs have disguised, smothered and killed the native landscape of City Park for the past couple of decades, ensured their role in history as perhaps the most un-enlightened park designers of the past half century with this last implantation of imported plant life.
But all is not lost…..yet. After this past week’s debacle of destruction, the Voodoo Music Experience (VME), tore up the soil under some of the most beautiful and fragile oaks in the park, we at least can look forward to when these non-native palms, ginger and other decorative plants blossom and bloom and hide those ugly old oaks that obviously were in the way of Cashio Cochran’s Eisenhower Era vision of tidy design.
What a year it’s been in City Park! Though I’ve only been blogging about it since March, we’ve seen bad decisions multiply like invasive species. The ironies pile up, too. The post-VME smell on Roosevelt Mall, despite the preponderance of familiar bull horns on the portable toilets, isn’t the aroma of the past couple of years in the French Quarter, but that of Bourbon Street of years gone by–a sour, sickly smell that this week’s blooming Sweet Olives can’t disguise. The damage, the smell, the bad design, the out of state plants, the heavy equipment crushing soil and roots, I guess it all smells like money to somebody. Or else we’d be hearing more than just me moaning and griping.
But, I guess I’m lucky. Unlike the those ever-more scraggly old oaks, I get to go home and put those smells and sights out of my mind whenever I want. And I have to assume that the folks who work there find all this quite normal since it keeps happening again and again and again and again and again…………..
City Park’s consulting arborist, Tom Campbell, working with contract arborist Tom Benton, has taken the first step in best practices for live oaks with a soil remediation project for two trees at the site of the new dog park. This location, where cars parked for decades and compressed the soil, was a great candidate for the effort.
Working with what arborists call an “air knife” that injects compressed air into the soil, loosening it and allowing air, water and nutrients to flow, the soil was also amended with organic matter and now looks rich and life-giving.
The site will now serve as a test for future efforts. The next likely candidate area is the playground near the Peristyle, where years of human activity have compressed the soil and badly damaged many mature trees.
Kudos to Tom Campbell and City Park for taking the initiative to begin this much-needed process of restoration and best practices!
Thanks to Lolis Elie and the Times-Picayune for telling the story of how I’ve been trying to promote best practices for tree care in our area.
This is just a brief post for new visitors. I’ll be updating in greater detail later. But, I have to address a statement made by landscape architect Carlos Cashio in today’s article. He says that “sometimes you take risks to accomplish certain design elements.” My response is NO, YOU DO NOT TAKE RISKS WITH MATURE LIVE OAKS IN CITY PARK. Ever.
I post these pictures to let you decide for yourself. What is more beautiful: Carlos Cashio’s concrete and brick pyramid-hat building or God’s ancient live oak?
It’s past time to let some of the true stewards and visionaries in the field of landscape architecture shape the future of this precious place. We already know what Cashio Cochran can do, and it does not meet my standards of the concept of legacy.
I really like the people behind the rebuilding of the Lafitte Projects. They’re nice. They said the new development will have many green and innovative features. But evidently everything must fit in nice square spaces and these trees are just not part of their vision for what the neighborhood should be.
30+ mature trees cut, 7 retained. And the beat goes on.
Good grief. I’m still trying to get to the bottom of this latest horrible development. Evidently the City of New Orleans bears some responsibility for restoring Harrison Ave through City Park. Not only are they widening the road–to the detriment of the oaks–but they’ve specified that a path be cut, evidently for sidewalks. Even the construction crew was surprised at the technical specifications which called for them to bulldoze the path. Now the trees have had their roots severed and are destined to be compacted and be abused by suffocating additions, likely concrete.
Why is it that as we rebuild we are killing so much of what matters in this town? What the floods didn’t take, stupidity is.
I couldn’t post all the pictures here so I built a Posterous page with 27 pictures. You can find it here at http://dyingoaks.posterous.com
Who is responsible for this latest crime against our quality of life?
After sending a still-unanswered correspondence about how the new Great Lawn project was damaging one of the older trees in the park, I noticed that these signs went up. Doesn’t that make you feel better? No? I thought not.
I did learn that the park’s primary contractor for tree “care” has now written a prescription for the tree. So, after the destructive acts committed against this beautiful and iconic oak by the design team, management and the construction company, the park is suddenly looking after the health of the tree. Ah, irony is a bitter and repulsive dinner sometimes.