The Front Yard Initiative
The Front Yard Initiative is UC’s response to excessive yard paving. Rampant front yard paving is a community issue that has broad and significant effects on the city of New Orleans from stormwater to safety.
On the surface, excessive paving may look bad, but the effects it has underground are even worse, as you can see from the graphic below. Unfortunately, an unhealthy block is the norm in New Orleans. The UC is trying to change that.
What is excessive yard paving and why is it a problem?
Paving in excess of 40% of your front yard (and side yard on corner lots) is illegal in most New Orleans neighborhoods under the new Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance. Since no permit issuance is required to pave a front yard area, the practice is widespread. Property owners replace their green spaces in favor of concrete and other impermeable surfaces in an effort to provide additional parking and/or reduce yard maintenance. These hard surfaces affect more than the single lot on which they sit.
Rampant front yard paving is a community issue that has broad and significant effects on the city of New Orleans from stormwater to safety.
Concerned citizens are encouraged to report excessive yard paving violations to the Department of Safety and Permits One Stop Shop call line @ 504-658-7100.
The detrimental effects of over-paving:
Attractive and environmentally friendly green space is lost as front yards are converted into off-street parking areas. Some cities have seen significant drops in property values as yard paving spreads.
Cars parked on the front yard area of residential lots often obstruct the “public right-of-way” (sidewalks) and pedestrians are forced into the street as a result. They also eliminate on-street public parking spaces.
It Leads to Flooding
Paved yards do not allow rainwater to soak into soil. Instead, the water runs off into the street and storm sewer systems, which then leads to more street flooding and sewer backups, increased pressure on infrastructure, more runoff pollutants entering waterways, and increased subsidence.
Most cases of excessive front yard paving and front yard parking spaces are illegal in New Orleans under the current Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance. However, no permit issuance is required to pave a front yard area, so the practice is widespread and relies on complaint-based, after-the-fact enforcement.
Excessive paving leads to more standing water, more pumping, more subsidence, and more frequent street repairs, all at taxpayers’ expense.
Ready to Go from Gray to Green?
Our Front Yard Initiative (FYI) connects homeowners interested in replacing unwanted concrete and asphalt with plants and soil to local professionals, volunteers, and other resources.
The program aims to further the sustainability and resilience goals spelled out in the GNO Urban Water Plan, Article 23 of the new CZO, the New Orleans Master Plan, in addition to complementing the Complete Streets policy.
Front Yard Initiative’s Pilot Project
Success! After months of hard work, two properties on Valmont St. have been transformed. The homes of the Depauw’s and the Henry’s now are visual examples of smart and beautiful alternatives to concrete in New Orleans’ neighborhoods.
Thanks to our partners at Evans + Lighter Landscape Architects, Bayou Land, Grounds to Ground, and Groundwork New Orleans. Thanks to our funders at Councilmember Stacy Head‘s office and the RosaMary Foundation. And especially thanks to the homeowners. We are excited to have the pilot completed and can’t wait to expand FYI around the city!
The Back Story on UC’s Involvement: Fighting the Good Fight
Since late 2013, the Urban Conservancy has been working to curb the excessive use of impervious surfaces on residential lots around the city:
In January of 2014, Travis Martin of the Urban Conservancy wrote an article for The Lens about the negative impact on aesthetics, public safety, and stormwater management of excessive yard paving. The article received positive public feedback and sparked further debate.
In February of 2014, UC Executive Director Dana Eness hosted “All Things Local” on WGSO 990 AM to get the word out further on the issue of excessive yard paving in New Orleans. Dana was joined on the air by Rami Diaz of Waggoner and Ball Architects, realtor Kimberly Hunicke of Urban Vision Properties and the UC’s Travis Martin.
In March of 2014, we held a public forum on the issue. Special thanks to our presenters Rami Diaz, Travis Martin, Dale Thayer, Karen Gadbois, and Jeff Supak for sharing their wisdom on this topic and helping to move us forward on seeking some long-term solutions to the problems with the existing system of addressing excessive yard paving.
In April of 2014, Dana Eness, Travis Martin, and Rami Diaz presented to the Public Works committee (Stacy Head and Latoya Cantrell were present). We proposed a two pronged approach to deter future paving and to incentivize the removal of existing paving:
1) In order to deter future paving and to minimize after-the-fact confusion and
adjudication, we proposed that the city require a permit for yard paving.
2) And to incentivize the removal of existing unwanted paving, we proposed a program similar to San Francisco’s Front Yard Ambassadors Program that encourages and assists homeowners to reduce the impervious surface on their lots.
In June of 2014, we had a great meeting with Councilmember-At-Large Stacy Head, City Planning Commission, Dept. of Public Works, and GNO Inc. Councilmember Head convened the meeting to discuss the Front Yard Initiative (FYI) and efforts to require a permit for front/side yard paving. We presented to Councilmember Head a sign-on letter with over 150 signatures representing citizens from all 5 council districts and a couple dozen neighborhood associations in support of requiring a permit for paving. Results include a funding commitment from Councilmember Head’s office and widespread support for reducing the excessive use of impervious surfaces in our neighborhoods. Councilmember Head is committed and so is the Urban Conservancy.
In July 2014, The Times-Picayune reported on one of the many neighborhood meetings we have been speaking at over the last few months. Read the story here. The UC has been visiting neighborhood organizations all over town to spread the word on the problems related to excessive yard paving and to introduce the Front Yard Initiative (FYI). Public outreach and education is a critical element of our work to curb this troubling trend.
We were delighted to host a group of planning students from the University of Toronto for an afternoon walk-and-learn in the Lower Garden District. The afternoon was focused on the small and large-scale interpretations of what it means to live with water in New Orleans. Rami Diaz was kind enough to share the green infrastructure solutions that he has applied to his own property. Check out more on the amazing system designed by Evans + Lighter Landscape Architecture firm.
In November 2014, we were thrilled to be selected to participate in Propeller’s Water Challenge 2015. The challenge consisted of a 12-week peer mentorship program focused on solving the region’s critical water challenges. We have benefitted from the opportunity to work with local water innovators and experts to grow FYI into a sustainable and measurable model for paving less in New Orleans. A big thanks to Mike Eckert and Propeller for the great opportunity!
Organizations that would like us to present or concerned citizens that are interested in learning more about our work can reach us by phone at 504-717-6187 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org