The Back Story on UC and Excessive Paving

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.

UC Executive Director Dana Eness and the UC's Travis Martin on air with "All Things Local" host Kevin Fitzwilliam on Feb. 15.
UC Executive Director Dana Eness and the UC’s Travis Martin on air with “All Things Local” host Kevin Fitzwilliam on Feb. 15.

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. 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.

UC and University of Toronto students out and about

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!