A strip of land in the heart of New Orleans that has successfully served the city as a waterway and a rail line may soon see its third function as an urban greenway – a paved bicycling and walking path potentially connecting neighborhoods and neighbors.
That’s the vision that energizes the grassroots citizens group Friends of the Lafitte Corridor and after years of planning, the local nonprofit is now gearing up to make it happen.
The land itself, known as the Lafitte Corridor, is a narrow, 2.9-mile stretch running from the edge of the French Quarter to the cemeteries district at the edge of Lakeview. It presents a unique opportunity, says FOLC president and local architect Daniel Samuels, because most of the land is already owned by the city and lies vacant.
“You see these rails-to-trails programs in other cities where the planners have to set aside millions just to assemble the necessary land,” says Samuels. “The land is compelling for its location in the heart of the city, because it’s already publicly owned and also for its history in the development of New Orleans.”
Much of the corridor follows the path that had been the Carondelet Canal, a shipping channel first dug on the orders of New Orleans’ colonial Spanish administrators late in the 18th century to connect the French Quarter with Bayou St. John. It was later filled in and used as rail yards, though today it’s largely dormant.
Earlier this year, the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization received an $85,000 federal grant for recreational trails, which it designated to FOLC for use on the Lafitte greenway. Private fundraising by FOLC has increased the budget to more than $114,000 in construction funds. Samuels says next steps include finding funding sources for other segments of the greenway and lighting and landscaping along its course.
The greenway idea has been included in city planning documents for many years, Samuels says, and when FOLC formed to help get the project moving it found partner organizations near and far eager to help it along. In June, the first city-sponsored steering committee was formed to begin coordinating construction.
Eventually, Samuels believes, the greenway could also be a catalyst for redevelopment along its course, with houses, apartments and stores potentially replacing today’s underused industrial spaces.
“We think this could offer people an opportunity to get out of their cars and get to work, get to church, get the kids to school in a different way,” says Samuels. “We definitely think this will be a step in making New Orleans a more livable city.”
For updates on the project, visitwww.folc-nola.org.