On any gorgeous day, you can guarantee a hoard of people are headed to New Orleans City Park. The 1,300-acre fauna sanctuary is one of the nation’s oldest urban parks and features historic, moss covered oak trees which have acted as the backdrop for various photoshoots and events, family picnics, hammock swinging and more. In addition to the leisurely activities the park provides, it also home to the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Louisiana Children’s Museum, the Besthoff Sculpture Garden, a mini golf course and the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park. In February 2021, Cara Lambright was named the new CEO of City Park, a role which includes planning for the park and ensuring its continued success as a New Orleans staple. At the start of Lambright’s new appointment, we checked in with her to see how she is adjusting to her new role in a new and unfamiliar city, and what she sees for the future of New Orleans City Park.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I was born and raised primarily in Dallas, but have many happy memories of spending summers with my family in New Iberia. Most of my 20s were spent abroad. I lived for a number of years in Bangkok, then Brussels, then London, where I finally settled down long enough to go to the London School of Economics.
Q: What are your educational and professional backgrounds?
A: [At the London School of Economics] I studied economics, with a focus on political theory, urban development and issues of poverty. My time at LSE laid the foundation for a post-collegiate certification in Urban Park Executive Leadership, through the [City University of New York] and the Central Park Institute, and ultimately paved the way to what remain my professional passions: civic engagement and the exuberant and responsible stewardship of public parks and greenspaces. On this journey, I served as president of Andrisin Abbey, a non-profit consulting firm that provided services to nonprofits, President of the Board of Art League Houston, and Member of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Trail Ride Committee. I am coming to New Orleans officially by way of Houston, where I settled down after the world tour and lived for 17 years. In Houston, I most recently served as the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for Memorial Park Conservancy.
Q: What are you looking forward to experiencing the most in New Orleans?
A: I’ve been spoiled to have a house here in NOLA for nearly five years, and without a doubt, my favorite moment is hearing the sound of a second line begin to float through the air and head my way. What joy. I cannot wait to experience it again. And I’m still mystified by how many restaurants are on my “must-try” list despite my best efforts. Addis, Brigstens’, Neyow’s, Jacques-Imo, and so many more. But it’s a struggle, right? I have so many favorites that keep drawing me back again… like Marjie’s, N7, Stein’s, Mosquito Supper Club, Willie Mae’s…it’s a long list.
Q: What was your first impression of the city?
A: I knew the first time I came as a young child that I wanted to live here. The city exudes “living.” New Orleans is the sum of its parts: the heavy, humid air, the omnipresent sound of music, the exuberant house decorating for any reason at all, the local vernacular, the warmth of the people, and so many traditions that create communities within communities. And, of course, the greenspace. New Orleans is filled with lush greenery and public spaces like City Park that invite everyone – these are essential components of the world’s greatest cities. New Orleans is simply intoxicating. Over the past few years, I would tell others, I work in Houston, so I can live in New Orleans.
Q: What excites you most about being a part of City Park?
A: There aren’t many historical parks of such significance and size in the heart of a major city. City Park is nationally important, but it is also the heartbeat of New Orleans, a place that welcomes everyone. Something special happens at City Park – something almost indescribable. City Park is the “people’s park” and that is at the heart of its appeal to me. I am excited to lead a park that brings a community together, that supports mental health through access to nature and recreation, and that embraces the unique culture of New Orleans.
Q: What are some of your first focus areas in your first few months at the park?
A: Well, first and foremost, I’m going to dive in and get to know the amazing staff that has been stewarding City Park – some staff has been with the Park for over 20 years. Their dedication and breadth of talent is amazing. And of course, we are going to ensure that we continue to provide the best possible user experience with the limited resources of the park as the pandemic continues. This means working with the park staff to identify and tackle the park’s most immediate priorities – and getting to work now on developing more long-term, sustainable sources of funding, including more diverse income streams for the park, to help bolster is against future challenges.
When I lived in England, my new neighbors asked me over for a drink and a get-to-know-you. They offered me either gin and tonic or champagne. I replied “Champagne! I can’t stand gin.” The lovely host replied by asking if I would like to see the family’s original recipe…it turns out, their last name was Tanqueray. (Side note: the Original Dry Gin Martini at the Bombay Club has completely transformed my feelings about gin.)