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.
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.
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.
Special note: I want to apologize if this post ruffles feathers. I admit that I am frustrated. I feel like I’m watching a loved one being assaulted and I’m supposed to be diplomatic and say, “please stop hitting her.” I pray that I find the inner-peace, wisdom and tact to evolve into a more effective and less-pointed advocate for a better world. For now, however, this is what I’ve thrown out there to try to find “light in the darkness of insanity” to quote Nick Lowe. I only want the best for City Park and our precious Louisiana. SP
Here are the gory details:
Well paid City Park designers, contractors and staffers continue to abuse and kill the precious live oaks under their stewardship. The Great Lawn project, part of the park’s Master Plan, is currently under construction. Just as with the Pavillion of the Two Sisters, a project that killed nearly a half dozen trees with at least one still barely holding on; and, with the loss of trees in the Sculpture Garden ongoing, all due to bad planning and implementation that failed to properly protect the soil and delicate root systems of the trees, the park is in trouble.
As I said in a previous post, City Park is being paved over. Already, an acre has been slathered with a suffocating coat of toxic asphalt. The Master Plan calls for many more acres to be encased in life-starving, impermeable concrete and asphalt because too many people in charge don’t know readily available procedures for Best Management Practices for a public park.
As I’ve noted, New Orleans City Park should be the green heart of the area. It should be the leader in sustainability and green principles to which we all turn to learn about and witness how humans properly manage the natural spaces our parks represent. After witnessing the construction of the Big Lake project and it’s poor choice in materials, tree selection and placement, and water management strategies–which connect to all these issues–I believe the park is in the hands of people who are reshaping it in ways that reflect the mindset of a bygone and downright ignorant time.
Here’s a letter I sent today to several people involved in the operations and oversight of City Park:
I am writing to urge you to act swiftly to prevent further damage to live oaks in the park; and, to add appropriate arborists and local green/sustainable design experts to the paid teams developing and implementing the park’s Master Plan.
Apparently, the overall planner for the Great Lawn project designed it to include concrete structures around the base of the large live oak across from the Peristyle. The design does not take into account the needs of the tree. Damage is happening now, with large areas deep under the canopy dug-out, lined with gravel and framed for concrete. Additionally, there is a trenched square nearly a foot deep under the canopy, cut across the roots.
As a lifelong advocate for live oaks, a recently trained Parkway Partners/Louisiana Urban Forestry Council Certified Citizen Forester; and, having learned Best Management Practices at Jefferson Tree School, a continuing education program for arborists, I know that the top 18 inches of soil are the most critical to the health of live oaks. The photos show the “improvements” underway have removed the top layer of soil and deeply trenched a section, cutting vital roots.
This is clearly a case of destructive design and construction that should have been stopped at several stages of the process.
With the heat, drought and now root damage, this tree will suffer significant die-off from which it will never fully recover. I believe you should immediately bring in a local live oak expert such as Scott Courtright or Tom Campbell to evaluate and try to remediate the damage already done.
It is time for City Park to stop using impermeable hardscapes that suffocate the soil, kill the trees, increase flooding and erosion, and speed pollutants into our precious waterways. No more impermeable concrete or toxic asphalt!
In researching this situation I learned an important fact regarding landscape architects: their degree does not require them to be arborists.
To me, this explains many things regarding how and why trees have been damaged in City Park.
Trees seem to be chosen by the park’s go-to landscape architect with appearance superseding appropriateness. Paving systems are designed and built without an arborist’s understanding of their impact. This is not in line with Best Management Practices for native flora, water management, enhancement of the flyway and wildlife, or Low Impact Design. Any number of people in our area are experts on these matters. Some of them are cc’d in this email.
This is not a job for volunteers. Well paid contractors–using taxpayer funding and donations of people who assume we’re using BMPs–are currently creating these destructive actions. It’s past time to include paid local experts who can help the park become the green leader we all need and deserve.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.
This is a rather primitive path in a park out west:
This is what the N.O. City Park Improvement Association, park directors and contracted designers consider a modern path:
Don’t you feel better knowing that people on the public payroll showed their wisdom in the management of one of the world’s great municipal parks by designing, reviewing and approving nearly a mile of polluting, impermeable, heat-inducing asphalt eight feet wide? This really brings New Orleans into the 21st Century! Heck, now you can even drive a car in places you couldn’t before. We sure are in good hands.
I want to thank all the wonderful people around the world who continue to contribute to our renewal. I know you will be impressed when you see how we’ve become such good stewards of our landscape in the aftermath of Katrina. Come to think of it, we might even make a few more bucks showing the world how we do this.
I don’t know about you, but I’m so proud right now I could cry.
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.
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.
Board of Commissioners of N.O. City Park Improvement Assn (a state agency, list needs updating)