Persona: John Coyle

Persona

Although 2020 wasn’t the idyllic start to the new decade that we all imagined, it arguably showed some good and sense of community in people as the year came to a close. As many took to our parks and bayous to occupy their time and find some sense of peace during the pandemic, Friends of Lafitte Greenway and NORD noticed a need for a new community space. Along with the Clarity Parks Project, the new Lafitte Greenway Plaza debuted this winter. John Coyle of Urbanscapes Design+Build Collaborative worked to design the new community space along with a team of professionals, and filled the space with public art, the Crescent City Farmers Market, new landscaping and more. This month, we talk to Coyle about the Lafitte Greenway Plaza, the community’s input into the project and the vibrant new rainbow bike path ready for everyone to enjoy. 


Q: What can visitors expect when visiting the new park?

The Greenway Plaza has a little something for everyone. It features colorful, interactive artwork throughout, a beautifully landscaped bioswale with native plants for water management, various types of seating arrangements, and a large stage. We had hundreds of community members respond to a survey that included our schematic designs so people could give feedback and tell us what they wanted. 

What emerged from this process was that people wanted to see a vibrant space that was flexible in use, that could be a space to have meetings or events, a place for kids to play, a place people could express themselves, or just hang out. Twice a week, the Crescent City Farmers Market will make the Plaza their new home, and Friends of Lafitte Greenway will continue to program events in the Plaza and on the new stage at its center. 

Q: Who all was involved?

This project was a labor of love by many groups and individuals. Our contractors from Mastadonte: Luisa Aballe, Arien Hall and Chloe Marshall worked with me on-site seven days a week to complete the construction of this rapid-build project before the grand opening. We worked with local artist and architectural designer Brandon Surtain to design and install the colorful, native plant-inspired mural that weaves through the entire plaza. The Greenway Ambassadors, Sustaining Our Urban Landscape (SOUL), Procella Design, WorkHaus, and other local artists and collaborators, Ray Fontaine, Rachel Menard, and Kayleigh Bruentrup also contributed to the success of this project. 

Q: How did you and your company get involved with the Lafitte Greenway project?

I believe that The Greenway is the most important public space in the city of New Orleans. I have been following the development of the Greenway closely since 2012 when I was researching bicycle infrastructure for my master’s thesis. When the Greenway officially opened in 2015, I started volunteering and became a Greenway Ambassador. I bike on the Greenway almost every day.  

Friends of Lafitte Greenway is the non-profit that works to program, promote, and develop the Greenway as a great public space. They have been doing an incredible job as the stewards of the space and listening to community feedback for what people want to see the space used for. In June they issued a Request for Qualifications for the Greenway Plaza design and build challenge to transform a former parking lot into a public plaza. Urbanscapes was selected in July and it has been an honor and a privilege to work with the community to transform the space into their collective vision.

Q: What went into the design and the construction of the new park?

The design process was a collaborative effort between the Urbanscapes team, Friends of Lafitte Greenway, NORD, The Project for Public Spaces, and the Greenway Ambassadors. Friends of Lafitte Greenway has been engaging the community for years, collecting feedback on how people wanted to use the space, which is what informed our initial design proposals. We presented our design schemes to neighborhood associations and held a virtual public meeting to get feedback to make design decisions. 

The pandemic created a challenge for community engagement, but luckily we were able to utilize contactless technology donated by Qwasi. Using this contactless system, community members were able to scan QR codes posted along the Greenway and take a survey online. They weighed in on space planning, color palettes for the mural, voted on children’s activities, and wrote in comments about the design and how they wanted to use the space. Together all of these people, ideas, and collaboration came together to create the plaza. 

Q: What’s your favorite part of the park as a whole?

Watching people experiencing the park for the first time has been my favorite thing. As we were building the plaza, I got to meet a ton of people who use the greenway regularly who were curious and excited about what the space was becoming. It brings me joy to see children playing on the stage and other features, people taking photos by the murals, drawing on the chalkboard, and locking their bikes on the new bike racks. Seeing how the park will change and grow as it gets used will be exciting as well. 

Q: How did the rainbow bike path come about?

This is the entrance to the plaza and greets visitors with bright colors and sends the message that the greenway is for everyone. The design for the rainbow bike path was inspired by the “progressive pride flag,” designed in 2018 by Daniel Quasar, which includes the addition of the five colored chevron that represents the BIPOC and transgender members of the LGBTQ+ community. We thought it was important to represent and show our support for these communities through this permanent public art installation. With the sponsorship of community partners SAGE New Orleans- NOAGE, we were able to take this community vision and make it real!

Q: What do you hope visitors will get out of the park?

Hopefully, people enjoy being in the space as much as we enjoyed building it. The plaza is a great place to be outside and spend time with friends and family. Visitors may be lucky to see some of the local wildlife that frequents the plaza. There is an egret that we named Edgar that can usually be found hanging out in the bioswale. 

Q: Who all was involved?

This project was a labor of love by many groups and individuals. Our contractors from Mastadonte: Luisa Aballe, Arien Hall and Chloe Marshall worked with me on-site seven days a week to complete the construction of this rapid-build project before the grand opening. We worked with local artist and architectural designer Brandon Surtain to design and install the colorful, native plant-inspired mural that weaves through the entire plaza. The Greenway Ambassadors, Sustaining Our Urban Landscape (SOUL), Procella Design, WorkHaus, and other local artists and collaborators, Ray Fontaine, Rachel Menard, and Kayleigh Bruentrup also contributed to the success of this project. 

Q: What’s your favorite part of the park as a whole?

Watching people experiencing the park for the first time has been my favorite thing. As we were building the plaza, I got to meet a ton of people who use the greenway regularly who were curious and excited about what the space was becoming. It brings me joy to see children playing on the stage and other features, people taking photos by the murals, drawing on the chalkboard, and locking their bikes on the new bike racks. Seeing how the park will change and grow as it gets used will be exciting as well. 


FUN FACT

There is an egret that we named Edgar that can usually be found hanging out in the bioswale.