Launch NOLA Green – Native Plant Paradise
For this Homeowner Story, we decided to focus on the students of the first LaunchNOLA Green graduating class. Launch NOLA is an initiative of New Orleans nonprofit Thrive NOLA and was created to help urban entrepreneurs establish and expand their ideas and businesses by providing business training, support, and resources to ensure success and sustainability.
Launch NOLA Green is designed to equip New Orleans’ minority-owned businesses with the skills and knowledge to be not just part of the workforce, but leaders in the water economy. Over the course of the 4 month program, participants learned how to incorporate water management into residential landscaping projects to combat flooding and subsidence.
As a city that requires a great deal of water management, Launch NOLA Green seeks to supply a network of green sector professionals to the property owners enrolled in the Urban Conservancy’s Front Yard Initiative and other residential scale projects. Eight dedicated students met every Thursday evening for fourteen weeks, many of them after a long day of work. George Toca, Arien Hall, Glenn Moore, Tarell McGowan, Luisa Abballe, Matthew Haynes, David Rodas, and Adrian Crawford are all in the process of setting up their own businesses, or incorporating green infrastructure services into their existing businesses plans.
One Thursday in April, just as the sun was beginning to set, Joe Evans of Evans + Lighter Landscape Architecture began one of the final classes at Delgado Community College. The attendees gathered at a U-shaped table facing a screen displaying a spreadsheet and an illustration of the yard they would be working on together for their first applied project. During the class, they constructed a design and helped each other calculate the total onsite water capture needed to handle all of the property’s runoff. They also built out a complicated bid sheet detailing estimated time spent, equipment rental, materials, labor, plants, and more that would all fit into the homeowner’s budget.
In the end, the LaunchNOLA Green crew was able to develop a bid that was within the homeowner’s budget; the team was even able to fit in a flagstone path the homeowner requested. The project removed 500 SF of paving, so the project qualified for a Front Yard Initiative reimbursement of $1250.
The class wrapped up with a discussion of all the benefits of the new yard including increasing the homeowner’s knowledge of stormwater management and the benefits of native plants to healthy habitats. They all agreed, talking clients through the process in the same way they did in class is an essential part of client education and essential for a smooth project.
Two weeks later at the graduation ceremony, Chuck Morse, Executive Director of Launch NOLA welcomed family and friends to watch loved ones become a part of the first graduating class of LaunchNOLA Green. Morse encouraged the graduates to think of the ceremony not as the culmination, but as the beginning of the next phase of their development as green sector professionals.
A few weeks after graduation, Luisa, Adrien, and Matthew were prepping the yard they had developed the design and budget for throughout the course. They removed all of the 500 SF of concrete in the front yard and had already hit an unpleasant surprise. “There were two layers of concrete and a layer of brick underneath that, unfortunately,” explained Luisa. “So the excavation we thought would take a day actually took more like three.” Because our city is sinking, this is a common occurrence. Homeowners pour layer after layer of concrete to counteract subsidence (land sinking) they see over the years, a response that actually exacerbates the issue.
Once the concrete was removed from the front and both sides of the house, the crew installed a rain garden filled with Louisiana iris and Muhly grass in the front yard, as well as a couple of water-loving cypress trees and palmettos. “I am a passionate about trees,” says homeowner Tom Lasher. “If you look up and down this block there is no shade anywhere, so my neighbors have trouble finding anywhere to sit and be comfortable.” Permeable gravel and flagstone walkways leading from the sidewalk to the front stairs completed the look. Within a week, and despite having to work through some days of record-breaking heat in May, the crew had transformed their Central City project from a concrete jungle to a water-loving oasis.
Arien, a carpenter by trade, says she has learned a lot about residential contracting through working with SBP and Evans + Lighter, for whom she’s been working for over two years. “The LaunchNOLA Green program is so important, in that it educates people overall on the issue of stormwater management. But what makes it really special is that it is educating those of us working in contracting and construction because, honestly, we’re the ones who, if properly trained, can save New Orleans from its subsidence and flooding issues.”
Property owner Tom Lasher agrees. “I’m thrilled with how this project turned out; working with these men and women was such a pleasure. Being able to do something to improve my lot’s curb appeal is nice, but when that improvement also reduces flooding, subsidence and the heat island effect and helps grow minority- and women-owned businesses to meet our city’s water management needs, it’s a win-win-win.”
LaunchNOLA Green is currently recruiting for its next 14-week program. For more information, please contact Ben Shenk at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interview and story by Blake Allen.