Front Yard Initiative

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.

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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. screen-shot-2016-11-21-at-3-00-56-pm                                             Click Here!

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Issue Details

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.

This program aims to further the sustainability and resilience goals spelled out in the GNO Urban Water Plan, and the New Orleans Master Plan, in addition to complementing the Complete Streets policy.

excessive paving

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.


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See our Resources page for important project guidelines

How FYI got started!   |   Report a violation   |   NOLA 311

Update 24

Sep 2019

Last month FYI saw recognition in two news spotlights!

Dr. Aimee K. Thomas from the biology department at Loyola University New Orleans gave a shoutout to the Urban Conservancy and FYI in this interview on WWL First News with Tommy Tucker about living with water!

FYI also got shine this month in a segment on WWLTV! Our executive director, Dana Eness, and two FYIers, Kristy Hitchcock and Rob Owens, spoke about the importance of onsite water management and going gray to green during these increased instances of flooding. Watch the video here!

Update 23

“We can all become stewards of the water by doing what we can to ‘slow it down, spread it out, and soak it in.’ If we do, a more hopeful and constructive spirit will permeate (pun intended) our city departments, universities, churches and workplaces.” Check out this great op-ed by FYI’s former Project Manager, Felice Lavergne written in June in partnership with the New Orleans Complete Streets Coalition.

Update 22

On August 21, 2019, The Urban Conservancy and our partners, LCI Workers’ Comp, LaunchNOLA, and StayLocal, hosted an event at Parkway Bakery and Tavern dedicated to inspiring, informing, and connecting people interested in learning about what’s happening in stormwater management. FYI participants, contractors and businesses, and all others interested in living with water and green infrastructure were in attendance and talked over po-boys and our signature cocktail of the evening, Permeable Punch!

Some of the UC team with board member Amy Stelly and her husband Philip Stelly
Update 21

Mar 2019

We’re pleased to announce the Urban Conservancy +  partners SOUL, Green Light New Orleans, and Launch NOLA have received funding to work in the Hoffman Triangle for the next two years from the Southeastern Sustainability Directors Network.

“USING FRONT YARDS TO ADDRESS FLOODING”
CITY OF NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

“Investment: $298,800
Project Partners: City of New Orleans, Urban Conservancy, Sustaining Our Urban Landscape (SOUL); Launch NOLA Green; Green Light New Orleans
Project Summary: New Orleans partners will prioritize green infrastructure projects in the Hoffman Triangle, one of the neighborhoods most vulnerable to repetitive flood loss, and also increase capacity of local community members to identify opportunities for green infrastructure in their neighborhoods. Connecting a green jobs training program, faith-based leaders and local community members, the project will use innovative tools to address stormwater and flooding issues, while at the same time scaling up highly effective green infrastructure retrofit techniques.”

Read the full press release.

Update 20

Nov 2018

We’ve been here in New Orleans for 300 years. We wouldn’t still be here if we didn’t have the ability to adapt. But we don’t like change. We still reminisce about long-closed drugstores, bakeries, and supermarkets. And, 300 years later, we’re still on the brink of flooding when it rains for an hour.

The Urban Conservancy is on both sides of this street. They want to keep things as they are, and they want change. They want you to support your local small retailer, and they want you to bust up the concrete in your yard and make a garden to help stop street flooding.

Listen here!

Update 19

Aug 2018

THIS PROGRAM IS PAYING CITY RESIDENTS TO DITCH CONCRETE IN FAVOR OF FLOWERS

8/17/18

Pavement in New Orleans is everywhere, especially in the suburbs. Those areas — some of the lowest-lying in the city — are where water is meant to drain from the higher elevation areas, such as the French Quarter. But the excess of pavement covering such neighborhoods has transformed permeable land into impenetrable surface. As a result, water that should flow to the suburbs at a pace slow enough for the city’s drains and pumps to manage it is moving too quickly. And there’s just too much of it.

But a city-backed initiative is helping city residents manage flooding on their properties. The project, Front Yard Initiative, reimburses homeowners to tear out pavement in their yards and replace it with rain gardens, local plants that can absorb large amounts of water and rain barrels. So far, the Front Yard Initiative has been adopted by 43 homeowners in three New Orleans neighborhoods, and city planners have argued that the project — if adopted by enough people — might help reduce flooding throughout the city.

Read Full Article

Update 18

Jul 2018

New Orleans is a city that floods. Even a small storm can leave streets impassable. City officials say they’re working on solutions, but they’re also asking citizens to help out. Listen to this WWNO story from July 13 featuring the Urban Conservancy’s Felice Lavergne talking about the Front Yard Initiative. Her interview starts at about 1:45. If you go to the link, you can also see a photo of some graduates of the UC’s and Launch NOLA’s Green Sector Academy implementing green infrastructure on a front yard in Central City.

Update 17

May 2018

Mayor LaToya Cantrell addresses the press for the first time since Friday's city-wide flooding due to severe weather at City Hall on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. (Photo by Frankie Prijatel, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)
Mayor LaToya Cantrell addresses the press for the first time since Friday’s city-wide flooding due to severe weather at City Hall on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. (Photo by Frankie Prijatel, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell held a news conference on Tuesday (May 22) to level with the public about the city’s flood risk and to outline how her administration is trying to “unclog” funding sources to mitigate risk.

Cantrell said she called the news conference after residents expressed anxiety over widespread street flooding after a torrential rainstorm dumped several inches of water on the city Friday within a matter of hours. The storm overwhelmed the city’s drainage capacity, which Cantrell and Sewerage & Water Board officials said was working as expected.

“The scale and scope of what we have to grapple with is much bigger than any one agency or any one set of metrics,” Cantrell said. “To be responsible, to be honest, we have to address the whole of the challenge.”

Much of what Cantrell had to say about funding focused on federal money that she said has been stymied by slow-moving design firms and other factors that have prevented the city from putting resources into capital projects. She sought to cast blame on her predecessor, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, in discussing why projects had “languished in the design stage.”

Cantrell said her administration has been “unclogging the bottleneck we’ve seen within the administration that we’ve inherited,” adding, projects “have been on hold for far too long, and we cannot tolerate that moving forward.”

“If you care about New Orleans like I know we all do, you need to care about stormwater and drainage,” Cantrell said. “We will never pump our way out of this, which will require us to do more.”

But much of what Cantrell was discussing concerned funding streams that aren’t considered permanent sources of money. At several points, the mayor said she is committed to implementing an urban water plan released in 2013 that includes a slew of green infrastructure projects over three parishes (Orleans, Jefferson, and St. Bernard) that is expected to cost as much as $9.1 billion.

On two occasions, reporters asked Cantrell during the news conference to outline long-term plans for implementing the urban water plan, including the numerous financing models included in an implementation analysis that is part of the plan. The first time Cantrell was asked about long-term plans for incentivizing private property owners to install green infrastructure, such as porous paving techniques, Cantrell said she’s put out a call to FEMA for help.

“Saying to FEMA, can you please get us several of your employees to work within the walls of City Hall so we can move these projects through at an expedited fashion?” Cantrell said.

There have been indications that Cantrell has been thinking about bracing residents for the long-term costs of funding more modern water management infrastructure projects. Over the weekend, she issued a statement to WDSU-TV that said “residents have to decide how much they are willing to pay to reduce their risk of flooding versus how much risk they are willing to tolerate.”

Asked to expand upon that statement at Tuesday’s news conference, and to name policy prescriptions on her agenda that would give residents and property owners a clearer picture of what they would need to pay, Cantrell focused on previous statements she made about helping property owners adopt techniques that keep water out of the stormwater system.

“Well, in terms of paying, it really speaks to, again, trying to be proactive and trying to building in incentives to help our people live with water and mitigating water on their properties and collecting water, keeping it from running into the drains,” Cantrell said.

“Working with residents who want to get rid of pavement maybe around their properties, so there are proactive solutions we know about that are not only embedded in our urban water plan but again embedded in policies that have been adopted by organizations like the Greater New Orleans Foundation and the Urban Conservancy,” Cantrell added. “There’s help there for us and it’s about linking our people to the help and where government plays a role in that, but we truly are in this together.”

The topic of incentives for property owners to install green features has often been raised amid discussions of whether to adopt a citywide stormwater fee that would help fund new infrastructure projects. A 2016 independent analysis of such a fee suggested charging property owners based on how much of their property is impervious to rainwater, and granting credits to owners who install retention or detention structures, install permeable pavement and other green infrastructure.

The Bureau of Governmental Research reached a similar conclusion in a report from 2017. Noting that the city will need $54.5 million by 2026 just to meet impending obligations and maintenance costs, the report noted that there’s no fee structure to provide funding for those needs — let alone build new infrastructure.

“The absence of stormwater fees in one of the nation’s most stormwater-challenged cities becomes more striking in light of the advantages such fees offer,” the report said.

Asked whether the City Council should begin considering whether to adopt a stormwater fee outlined in the BGR and the Raftelis report, Cantrell said, “Well, I think the New Orleans City Council is prepared to work alongside me in mitigating flooding in the city of New Orleans.”

Last year, in the wake of the Aug. 5 floods that were far more damaging than the flooding on Friday, the Landrieu administration indicated they would be willing to move on stormwater fee legislation. An ordinance never emerged before he left office earlier this month, though former City Councilwoman Stacy Head did introduce legislation that would have asked voters to approve a charter amendment to allow the council to set a stormwater fee. The legislation was eventually withdrawn.

Cantrell also outlined recent discussions she’s had during recent meetings with FEMA. She cautioned that the agency doesn’t respond to disasters until 72 hours out, and said officials urged her to tell residents to get homeowners insurance. She said she also asked about renters and was told “push them to get rental insurance.”

“What we’re seeing, really, at the federal level is that they’re willing to help us, and they’re ready to,” Cantrell said. “But the immediate response will be on the city of New Orleans and our local partners. So I’m leaning, leaning heavy and I feel very confident in the support we will get and we are getting.”

Cantrell did not use the news conference to address recent developments in Sewerage & Water Board leadership. The utility’s interim executive director, Marcie Edwards’, last day was Monday. Two interim candidates were recommended by a Sewerage  board committee late Monday afternoon.

“Mayor Cantrell has received the recommendations from the committee, and is in the process of reviewing them,” Beau Tidwell, Cantrell’s communications director,” said in an email Tuesday. “She expects to make an announcement soon.”

Update 16

Feb 2018

Judges Joe Willis, left, Kevin Taylor, center, and Anna Timmerman, right, give Linda Gielec her awards in the Jazzin' Up the Neighborhood Garden Contest. Photo by Chris Granger, NOLA.com
Jazzin’ Up the Neighborhood Garden Contest | Photo by Chris Granger, NOLA.com

When Linda Gielec bought her house in Central City in 2014, she was itching to indulge her green thumb. The house has a side yard where Gielec could envision a natural screen of foliage to create privacy and add coziness.

But first, she had to deal with the concrete. Lots of concrete.

“It was all cement about 5 feet from the side of the house,” Gielec said. “It was cracked and broken and half buried in weeds.”

So instead of checking off her list of interior renovations she’d like to do, Gielec spent her time and money on redeveloping the front yard. “I thought when I bought this house, it was so beautiful, I wanted to give it what it deserves,” she said. “I could have redone my bathroom or got central AC, but I really wanted a nice garden.”

For assistance, Gielec applied to the Front Yard Initiative, a program of the Urban Conservancy which reimburses homeowners for ripping out concrete on their property and replacing it with green space to help stormwater management. Gielec removed 500 square feet of paving and was reimbursed $1,250 by the program.

Once that was done, she had a blank slate to install a small front garden filled with Yuletide and Shi Shi camellias and blooming Society Garlic, a brick walkway, a row of Little Gem magnolias and an Alexandrina Japanese magnolia, which brightens gray winter days with its splash of pinkish blossoms.

“My favorite front yard plant so far is a tie between the Yuletide Camellia flowers and the massive, fragrant, Alexandrina Magnolia flowers,” she said.

 On a street with few trees or gardens, Gielec’s front yard is a pocket of natural beauty that brightens the entire block, and her efforts won her third place in the third annual Jazzin’ Up the Neighborhood Garden Contest. Sponsored by NOLA.com|The Times-Picayune, the LSU AgCenter, and the Metro Area Horticulture Foundation, the contest, held last fall, was open to front yards throughout the New Orleans area. The judges were LSU AgCenter agents Joe Willis and Anna Timmerman; Metro Area Horticulture Foundation president Kevin Taylor of Southern Accent Landscaping & Lawn Care Inc.; and Susan Langenhennig, InsideOut editor. The five finalists’ gardens were visited in person by the judges.
Little Gem Magnolias line Gielic's side yard |Photo by Chris Granger, NOLA.com
Little Gem Magnolias line Gielic’s side yard | Photo by Chris Granger, NOLA.com

As the third-place winners, Gielec received a $100 gift certificate to Jefferson Feed; a signed copy of “The Louisiana Urban Gardener: A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Vegetables and Herbs” by Kathryn K. Fontenot; and a copy of “The Grumpy Gardener: An A to Z Guide from the Galaxy’s Most Irritable Green Thumb,” by Steve Bender.

“My neighborhood is very humble and is unfortunately inundated with blight and rundown and overgrown vacant properties and has very few trees, let alone gardens,” Gielec wrote in her contest entry. Now, after seeing her plants bloom, a few of her neighbors have started working on their yards, too.

"Society Garlic and Angelonia pair together here beautifully," said judge Kevin Taylor. | Photo from Linda Gielec
Society Garlic and Angelonia | Photo by Linda Gielec

Beyond her front fence, which is covered in jasmine, Gielec also improved the patch of land between the sidewalk and the street, planting two large Country Red crape myrtles and illuminated them with landscaping lighting. She chose the Country Red after hours of “obsessive” research into the vast number of crape myrtles cultivars.

“I contacted Blooms Landscaping in New Orleans to find me large specimens, determine proper spacing, and to plant them properly for me,” Gielec said.

To brighten her front steps, she also planted pots with blooming annuals; the SunPatiens were still going strong until the January freezes. (Most of the photos with this story were taken before the freezes.)

Gielec, a Pennsylvania native who has lived in New Orleans for several years, has always loved plants and grew up with a father who enjoyed gardening. “He took me to the gorgeous Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania each year, often at Christmas and in the summer,” she said. “Those gardens had always absolutely mesmerized me.”

See more photos of Linda’s yard transformation and access the full article here.

Update 15

Feb 2018

Facts & Figures 3.8.18

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