The Front Yard Initiative, the UC's response to excessive yard paving, is a project working to improve New Orleans’ safety, stormwater management, and beauty.
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.
The Front Yard Initiative is an incentive program that reimburses eligible homeowners $2.50 per square foot of paving removed- up to 500 square feet- for a max of $1,250.Click Here!
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 (CZO). 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.
To deter future excessive paving and to minimize after-the-fact confusion and adjudication, the Urban Conservancy proposed that the city require a permit for yard paving. We continue to advocate for this permit.
Learn more about problems caused by excessive paving.
Watch how FYI creates Green Sector job opportunities!
For some time, New Orleans property owners have replaced green spaces with concrete and other impervious surfaces in efforts to expand parking and reduce yard maintenance. Serious flooding issues began to emerge across the city as a result. Now there is a program incentivizing homeowners to remove their pavement and install grass and other permeable materials so that rain can soak into the ground again, reducing storm water runoff.
In this episode of Waterloop, Dana Eness explains The Front Yard Initiative. Dana explains how the initiative helps property owners to redesign their front yards, the growing appreciation for green solutions among New Orleanians, and the success of the program, which keeps 2 million gallons of water out of our streets and drains yearly.
The Urban Conservancy’s Dana Eness was interviewed by the Preservation Resource Center for the April 2021 issue of Preservation in Print:
“The Urban Conservancy’s Front Yard Initiative (FYI) helps residents to rip up excessive concrete around their homes. Excessive concrete can exacerbate flooding. Tell us how that program got started and how it works.
‘The program started in about 2014 with a frustrated constituent trying to bring some attention to the fact that people in his Uptown neighborhood were paving their front yards, in violation of city regulations, in order to reduce maintenance and increase off-street parking, and there didn’t seem to be any enforcement. We partnered with The Lens news website (excessive paving was an issue that Lens founder Karen Gadbois was reporting on) and invited neighborhood leaders and city staff to come together to discuss the issue.
From that dialogue, we realized that, in addition to people intent on paving, there were many people who had more paving on their property than they wanted but just didn’t know how to go about getting rid of it. We decided we wanted to focus on helping those who wanted to transform their property so it would hold rain where it fell rather than run off and contribute to our street flooding and overburdened pumping system.'”
New Orleans, LA, September 24, 2020 — Since Katrina, New Orleans leaders have looked for innovative ways to relieve pressure on the city’s pumping systems during storms and other heavy rain events. Many are advocating for more “green stormwater infrastructure” that will allow the ground to soak up water that would otherwise be sent to catch basins.
Unlike curbs, gutters and drains that move stormwater from a built environment into a nearby body of water, green infrastructure is designed to capture the rain water where it falls. Picture an impermeable parking lot, for instance, that’s been converted into one built with a permeable paving system on top of soil that has been conditioned to enhance its ability to take on water. If you’ve been to Parkway Bakery and Tavern near Bayou St. John, you can picture what it looks like.
A lot of people – from the federal government down to local contractors – have been getting involved in GSI projects. The Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Sewerage and Water Board and the City of New Orleans are collaborating on a campaign called “Every Drop Makes a Difference.” The Gentilly Resilience District, meanwhile, will use a $141 million federal grant to create water features, permeable sidewalks and other water-management infrastructure.
One local nonprofit that’s focused on residential GSI projects is the Urban Conservancy, which just released a report on its Front Yard Initiative based on survey responses from 68 of the homeowners who have participated in the program. In five years, the initiative has raised approximately $100k from the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Wisner Foundation and other benefactors and used the funds to pay a portion of the cost of residential GSI projects citywide.
Urban Conservancy’s Dana Eness said the good news is that the study shows that “green stormwater infrastructure actually works,” and the functionality only increases over time as plants and their root systems have become fully established.
September 2020– Read the Front Yard Initiative’s (FYI) report, published September 2020
FYI’s 2020 Green Stormwater Infrastructure Homeowner survey findings demonstrate that homeowners can significantly decrease flooding on their properties while reducing runoff to storm drains by removing impermeable pavement and installing green stormwater infrastructure (GSI).
The Urban Conservancy (UC) surveyed FYI participants who completed their gray-to-green projects from 2015 to December 2019 to assess the long term benefits and issues with residential GSI. Of the 78 eligible respondents 68 completed the survey (or 86%).
The results of this study support the notion that GSI has many beneficial effects: reducing localized flooding, beautifying outdoor space, bringing back lost habitats, stimulating local economies and more. FYI participants have even reported compounding effects; as their rain gardens and native plants grow in they continue to see greater benefits.
“This data has incredibly positive implications for New Orleans as we continue to look for ways to reduce the risk to people and property that comes with our increasingly intense rainfall events,” says Dana Eness, Executive Director of the Urban Conservancy. “It shows that residential GSI, when properly installed, is effective, economical, not overly burdensome to maintain, and enhances community safety and quality of life by reducing frequency and severity of flooding while keeping thousands of gallons of water per rain event out of our streets, catch basins, and pumping system.”
FYI strives not only to incentivize homeowners to remove impermeable pavement, but also to advocate, inspire and to help guide New Orleans into a more sustainable future. It is our hope and our goal that this report may bring a greater understanding and awareness of the importance of GSI on residential properties and that this in turn increases the implementation of GSI. We want to thank all of our FYI participants and green sector contractors for their indispensable help in bringing New Orleans that much closer to a green future!
NEW ORLEANS, LA, July 20, 2020 –– Homeowners, contractors, and green sector specialists join the Urban Conservancy Tuesday, July 21, at 5:30 pm for a Zoom call to release new survey findings demonstrating that homeowners can significantly reduce flooding on their properties while reducing runoff to our catch basins by installing green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) like rain gardens, rain barrels, and permeable paving systems.
The UC conducted a survey of 68 homeowners who participated in their Front Yard Initiative between 2015 and 2019 to assess long term benefits and issues with residential GSI. “This data has incredibly positive implications for New Orleans as we continue to look for ways to reduce the risk to people and property that comes with our increasingly intense rainfall events,” says Dana Eness, Executive Director of the Urban Conservancy. “It shows that residential GSI, when properly installed, is effective, economical, not overly burdensome to maintain, and enhances community safety and quality of life by reducing frequency and severity of flooding while keeping thousands of gallons of water per rain event out of our streets, catch basins, and pumping system.”
The findings of this study are consistent with what several recent studies in other cities around the country have also documented: dollars invested in GSI generate multiple benefits like reducing localized flooding and subsidence while spurring economic activity that supports well-paying jobs and businesses.
Eness hopes this data will serve as a catalyst for development of a coordinated, data-driven strategy that places residents and contractors implementing GSI at the center of the conversation. “Building a blue-green sector that advances racial equity and economic security is the task before us. For every resident who installs green infrastructure, and for every contractor who installs it, there are countless others who are inspired by it and ready to do the same but don’t have the necessary resources, guidance or skills they need to participate,” says Eness.
What: Residential Green Infrastructure in New Orleans: Key Findings from the Front Yard Initiative
About the Urban Conservancy: The Urban Conservancy is a non-profit organization leading and collaborating to strengthen New Orleans’ urban environment and local economy through equitable practices, policies and programs. We engage in hands-on programming to alleviate neighborhood flooding and create green sector job opportunities through our Front Yard Initiative. Learn more at urbanconservancy.org/fyi
In the article, Daria Uporsky of SSDN discusses the cooperation between the New Orleans Office of Resilience & Sustainability and Umbrella. Umbrella is a coalition of nonprofit partners including the Front Yard Initiative, Green Light New Orleans, SOUL, and Launch NOLA.
“By testing strategies in Hoffman Triangle”, Uporsky notes, “they hope that their new models can be scaled to other neighborhoods, and ultimately contribute to increased resilience across the city.”
Excerpt from Lutheran Disaster Response U.S. (LDR)’s summary of their visit to New Orleans where they met with UC board member, Amy Stelly, and FYI participant Kristy Hitchcock:
Kristy Hitchcock, a single parent, moved to New Orleans four years ago after her daughter graduated from the University of New Orleans. “She told me she wasn’t coming back because she loved New Orleans so much,” said Hitchcock, who quit her job, sold her house and relocated.
In New Orleans, paving yards was once a popular way to create additional parking spaces and reduce property maintenance demands. When Hitchcock bought her house, her entire front yard and about 40% of her backyard had been paved with concrete, which restricted water from sinking into the ground, increasing the burden on drainage systems. “When it rained, I couldn’t even go out in my yard without rain boots,” she said.
Hitchcock decided to apply for the Front Yard Initiative… She has created an oasis in her yard and has helped mitigate the street flooding in her neighborhood. “I started it because I love to garden and I wanted to be outdoors,” she said.
Hitchcock sees the project as “something for your own home that you will enjoy, that is going to be benefiting your neighbors and, ultimately, benefiting the city too if this water that I’m trapping doesn’t go down the drain.”
New Orleans claims 1,450 square feet of road surface per person; the highest ratio of pavement per person in the country.
The majority of our transportation infrastructure was built in the 1960’s with population projections of 1 million residents. The city currently has less than 400,00 people. We are taxing ourselves to maintain an over-sized street system.
Reducing the sizes of roadways provides space for municipal water management installations and multi-modal transportation opportunities.
If you haven’t already, please fill out the form below to be notified when the next round of FYI funding (a taxable rebate) is available. We will schedule a series of homeowner design workshops once it is.
In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to reach out so we can connect you with resources to help you remove paving and reduce flooding as cost- and time-effectively as possible. Email email@example.com or call 504-717-6187 to tell us more about your project ideas. And THANK YOU for your interest in water-smart landscaping!