The basic definition states a community is simply a group of people living together, but isn’t community more? There is an expanded definition we will likely agree is improved: “… a group of people who, regardless of the diversity of their backgrounds, have been able to accept and transcend their differences, enabling them to communicate effectively and openly and to work together toward goals identified as being for their common good.”
During my tenure writing this column I’ve been blessed to meet numerous New Orleanians who are passionately making change through appreciation and understanding of this deeper meaning of community. From its grassroots beginning, Friends of Lafitte Greenway is the epitome of how the power of a community can strengthen and improve for the greater public good.
Serving first as an 18th century commercial canal and then a 20th century railroad, the Lafitte Greenway is now an attractive, vibrant 2.6 mile transportation corridor and linear park that meanders through six historic neighborhoods – connecting Armstrong Park to City Park – and serves as the central artery of New Orleans’ burgeoning bicycle network.
The transformation began in early 2005 through the vision of some Mid-City friends observing workers pulling up ties on the abandoned railroad running through their neighborhood, sparking an idea to repurpose the land into a new park and path for their community. Friends of Lafitte Greenway was born and has grown into a staffed nonprofit and community-wide advocacy initiative that through the park’s development has created new public space connecting citizens to the outdoors and each other with visible economic, environmental, health and cultural benefits for the whole city.
The Lafitte Greenway didn’t come to fruition immediately however. Hurricane Katrina’s destruction impacted initial progress but ultimately provided an opportunity for integrated development into the citywide renewal plan. With Federal Disaster Recovery funds for property acquisition, mentoring by the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and a tremendous amount of community engagement through neighborhood meetings and planning exercises, the Greenway officially opened in 2015 as the walking, biking trail and green space we know today. The Greenway includes a 12-foot asphalt path for cyclists and pedestrians, recreation fields, basketball courts, outdoor fitness parks, green space and landscaping including approximately 500 shade trees, native plant meadows, bioswales and stormwater retention features. Looking ahead in 2020, the Greenway will see improvements to its new bike and pedestrian bridges, safety features, the opening of an inclusive playground, programming expansion through a new sports field clubhouse and pavilion space, and stimulating temporary art installations and colorful murals along the path. “There are so many beautiful layers that can be added, the health benefits, connectivity, economic development, recreation, cultural growth, water management,” shares Founding Board Member Linda Landesberg. “I love that the Greenway can and will develop beyond our expectations.” Clearly New Orleanians are taking advantage of the many opportunities the Greenway offers with over 320,000 users in 2018 and an 8−10 percent use increase seen annually.
Friends of Lafitte Greeway funding depends on the generosity of individual, corporate and foundation donors in engage in their supportive partnership with the City and New Orleans Recreation Department who manage, maintain and coordinate programming of the public space. Additionally, corps of more than 500 volunteers and collaboratives with other local nonprofits also bolster ongoing vital maintenance and programming needs. Health, nature, community, place – Friends of Lafitte Greenway is making us better by bringing us together.
A little more…
Don’t miss “Greenway Fest,” Saturday, March 21, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. at The Greenway’s Great Lawn, 500 N. Galvez St. For more information visit LafitteGreenway.org.