City planning gets a lot more attention these days as Hurricane Katrina recovery continues and New Orleans’ first master planning process moves along. Faubourg Marigny is one part of the city where citizen-led planning has long been a priority, and recently the neighborhood was lauded by a professional organization representing city planners nationwide.

Earlier this year, the American Planning Association named the Marigny to its top 10 list of Great American Neighborhoods, which the association says recognizes “places where people want to be — not only to visit, but to live and work every day.”

“It feels like a reward for all the hard work this organization has done for so many years,” says Chris Costello, president of the Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association, which was formed in 1972. “I think this is an opportunity to showcase that good planning is key to a successful neighborhood, and you need active participation of the residents.

After all, they have to live with whatever is planned.”

The area traces its roots to the plantation of Bernard Phillippe Xavier de Marigny de Mandeville, who began subdividing his property in 1805 to create a Creole suburb just downriver from the Vieux Carré. Immigrants and free people of color were among its earliest residents. The neighborhood entered a period of deterioration with changing demographics after World War II. But in 1971, graduate students at Tulane University created a Preservation Plan for the Marigny, which set out to prove that saving historic architecture could be a catalyst to lift a neighborhood.

Customized zoning was enacted to protect historic buildings, and in 1974 the area was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Marigny is among the city’s most colorful and diverse areas, with a dense stock of historic homes, a mix of neighborhood businesses and a lively entertainment area especially on Frenchmen Street. Costello says one goal for the Marigny today is to foster economic development along St. Claude Avenue to bring more neighborhood services to the area. The group also has a vigilant eye on City Hall’s plans to redevelop portions of the Mississippi riverfront.

Costello says the concern is that any projects to materialize from those plans be in sync with the neighborhood’s character and receive proper funding and upkeep to remain safe and viable.

“It all comes down to quality of life issues,” he says. “Those are big concerns for people who have invested their life savings in these properties.”

— I.M.