The Obama administration has promoted the idea that the nation can link environmental issues with economic development to help both areas simultaneously. Closer to home, the Greater New Orleans Foundation is providing grants to put some of that potential into action quickly and locally.
The Environmental Fund was first established at GNOF in 1994 with proceeds from a class action lawsuit settlement following a chemical spill. Previously, grants from the fund went primarily to support research-related projects, often from universities, says Marco Cocito-Monoc, GNOF’s director of regional initiatives. After a dormant period, he says, the fund has been revived and its aim redirected to support grassroots programs that are ready for implementation.
“The overarching idea is resiliency,” he says. “What we want here is to make a community more resilient to storms and to link environmental causes with economic factors in the city.”
If residents had more resilient communities, he says, they wouldn’t necessarily have to flee before weaker hurricanes, thus saving money from evacuation costs, while life and business also could return to normal faster following extreme weather. To that end, the fund is designed to support a breadth of projects, from improving the levee system to promoting sustainable design in neighborhoods.
As an example, Cocito-Monoc points to the potential of permeable sidewalks and paving to reduce runoff from rainfall, and similar street-level systems that can leave an area better prepared to absorb a downpour without flooding.
“This area is a proving ground for these ideas because we need to implement now, yesterday preferably,” he says.
For this current cycle, the fund will distribute $500,000, with grant amounts capped at $50,000 each. The fund is particularly intended for local groups, including neighborhood or even block organizations of residents, which typically don’t have much access to major grant funding.
Another goal of the fund is to connect local groups and residents with experts to serve as their advocates when dealing with the Corps of Engineers and other authorities handling environmental and sustainability issues.
“The Corps typically goes to the people with their plans, so we think enabling groups to have an expert knowledgeable in these issues working directly for them can put them at a more even level,” Cocito-Monoc says.
“We want this to empower residents to feel they have a say in how their neighborhood will look and grow more resilient,” he says.
Application details are online at www.gnof.org.