When members of the Gentilly Civic Association learned at one of their meetings that the first major project of a new campaign to replant trees around New Orleans would zero in on Elysian Fields Avenue, the response was jubilation.
That’s not surprising, says Jean Fahr, director of Parkway Partners, since residents have seen so many of the distinctive trees in their neighborhoods disappear to wind and flood damage since Hurricane Katrina.
“Trees have become a much bigger priority for people because they’ve lost so much and want to bring back the things that made their city feel like home,” says Fahr.
Turning that longing into action and replanting the lush urban forest along the city’s streets is the rallying cry of ReLeaf New Orleans, the latest campaign from Parkway Partners. The private nonprofit, which works in tandem with the city’s Department of Parks and Parkways and the public to keep New Orleans green, launched the program as a combination of hands-on replanting, neighborhood-based advocacy for urban trees and fund-raising for raw materials.
Parkway Partners estimates that 50,000 trees have been lost since Katrina on public property alone. The level of damage could be as high as 250,000 when felled trees on private property are counted, Fahr says.
Despite the massive losses, Fahr looks to the silver lining – residents taking an active role in planning the rebuilding of their neighborhoods. One of the goals of ReLeaf is to make sure trees are part of those plans, and to build a coalition of representatives from neighborhood associations as advocates for “re-greening” the city.
“People are sitting down and planning their neighborhoods. When have we ever had an opportunity to do anything like this?” she says.
ReLeaf is coordinated by Parkways Partners but is driven by volunteers. During the replanting on Elysian Fields Avenue, for instance, volunteers planted 80 live oaks, 80 magnolias, 32 crepe myrtles and 16 willow oaks along the street’s neutral ground. Other replanting projects will focus initially on similarly high-traffic corridors.
Another component of ReLeaf is outreach to residents as they replant trees on their own properties, to make sure they use appropriate placement and species type for healthy trees down the road. The group is also providing low-cost street tree replacements through a contractor – including a maintenance and watering program. Parkway Partners holds “Second Saturdays” events – on the second Saturday of each month – at its Baronne Street headquarters that include educational workshops and tree sales from its greenhouse. – Ian McNulty