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 pavingLearn more about problems caused by 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.

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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

Facts & Figures

Update 14

Jan 2018

UC takes home the Stormwater Award for Leadership | Photo by Michael Wong
LifeCity’s 2018 Love Your City Awards Photo by Michael Wong

By: Sara Sneath
NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
See the article here.

LifeCity announced the winners of its “Love Your City Awards” on Thursday night (Jan. 26) at the Sheraton New Orleans. Local businesses were recognized for environmental and social justice achievements.

“The Love Your City Awards are important for two reasons. First, they celebrate the incredible impact of often untold stories and unsung heroes already succeeding in this work,” said Liz Shephard, the founder and CEO of LifeCity. “And secondly, they inspire us to dig deeper and innovate new ways of growing our economy while strengthening our community and environment.

The “best all around” awards went to Green Coast Enterprises and Folgers Coffee. Green Coast Enterprises also took home the leadership award for clean energy for their work in building affordable, energy efficient housing in New Orleans. Folgers Coffee was recognized for its commitment to achieving zero waste, a practice aimed at eliminating unused byproducts. The New Orleans roasting location hopes to reach its goal by 2020.

Sugar Roots Farm, a working farm in Orleans Parish, won the people’s choice award. The farm collects New Orleans food waste to feed their livestock and to make compost, reducing what goes to the landfill, according to their website.

Here’s the full list of winners:

Stormwater Award

Achievement: Landrieu Concrete and Cement Industries

Leadership: Urban Conservancy

Buy Local Award

Achievement: Empire Services

Leadership: Natural Awakenings Magazine

Healthy Fresh Food Award

Achievement: Carmo

Leadership: Compost NOW

Employee Wellness Award

Achievement: New Orleans City Park

Leadership: Solar Alternatives

Clean Energy Award

Achievement: The Green Project

Leadership: Green Coast Enterprises

Equitable Hiring Award

Achievement: Walgreens

Leadership: The Ruby Slipper

Clean Transportation Award

Achievement: Insurance Design & Placement

Leadership: Friends of the Lafitte Greenway

Inclusive Workplace Award

Achievement: Dancing Grounds

Leadership: Lighthouse for the Blind – Louisiana

Zero Waste Award

Achievement: GoodWood

Leadership: Republic Services

Collaboration Award

Achievement: Recirculating Farms Coalition

Leadership: Water Collaborative

Love Your City Award

Green Coast Enterprises

Folgers Coffee

People’s Choice Award

Sugar Roots Farm

Update 13

Jan 2018


By: Emily Bahr, AICP | 
Read the full article from Planning Magazine here.

FYI in Planning Magazine
FYI in Planning Magazine

Rain poses a more regular threat than hurricanes in New Orleans – but it’s also an untapped asset.

Pumping Alone is Insufficient

Officials overseeing New Orleans’s drainage system initially said of this summer’s flood that the system had simply been overwhelmed by the intensity of the storm. They later admitted it had not been working properly, and several members of the city’s top brass resigned. As of October, when this article was being written, stabilization efforts and an investigation into the causes of the system’s malfunction continued.

The drainage system has long been in need of a major overhaul to replace decaying equipment, but insufficient funding and other challenges have hampered repair prospects. A citizen-led task force in 2012 outlined numerous deficiencies afflicting the system, noting that it was barely capable of handling a heavy rain of the sort expected to occur annually. Its report noted that even relatively high parts of the city are susceptible to flooding from routine storms thanks to inadequate infrastructure, clogged catch basins, bureaucratic oversight, and related problems.

Most agree that a fundamentally different approach is needed to manage the city’s stormwater. For a decade, New Orleans architect David Waggonner has advocated that water is an asset and should be a prominent feature of the urban landscape, rather than a nuisance hidden away by pipes and covered canals. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, his firm, Waggonner & Ball Architects, along with APA, helped to convene a series of sessions called the Dutch Dialogues. That process brought together Dutch planners, architects, and engineers alongside their American counterparts to strategize how to improve New Orleans’s urban water management by employing natural systems.

The result was the 2013 Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan, developed by Waggonner & Ball and a team of water management experts. The plan, which received a National Planning Award from APA in 2015 outlines a 50-year roadmap of projects and principles to reintroduce water to the landscape. In 2014, the Greater New Orleans Water Collaborative, a multi-sector coalition, was formed to work toward implementation.

The water plan envisions a dramatically different-looking city. Flood walls lining unsightly drainage canals are torn down, blights on the cityscape transformed into urban waterways; abandoned lots become rain gardens and bioswales, neighborhood parks that retain water and prevent flooding in storms; cratered streets and medians along the city’s many boulevards are reconfigured with permeability in mind. It’s an approach, advocates say, that would reduce reliance on the city’s overtaxed and resource-intensive drainage system while helping to recharge the water table, shoring up subsiding soils.

The concept of living with water rather than fighting against it is “becoming part of the common language,” says Dana Eness, executive director of the Urban Conservancy, a local nonprofit that has been involved in various educational efforts around stormwater management.

There have been successes. In 2014 Jeff Hebert was hired as the city’s first resilience officer—with funding and support from the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities program—and was charged with focusing on mitigating the effects of sea-level rise and flooding. In 2015, the city enacted new regulations as part of its comprehensive zoning ordinance requiring commercial developments of at least 5,000 square feet to manage the first 1.25 inches of stormwater on-site.

Also that year, Landrieu’s office unveiled its Resilient New Orleans strategy, which included actions on stormwater management such as implementing water plan projects and developing a program to encourage property owners to reduce flood risk by taking steps like elevating their homes and installing water-mitigation features. (That strategy received a National Planning Award, too.)

In 2016, the mayor made the Office of Resilience and Sustainability permanent, keeping Hebert at the helm. The 12-person office is now responsible for many of the city’s green infrastructure initiatives and features a new job: urban water program manager, Antrup’s official title.

Momentum is also building outside the corridors of City Hall. Eness says her organization can’t keep up with demand for its Front Yard Initiative, a program administered with philanthropic support that pays homeowners to rip up concrete in their front yards and install water-loving plants and permeable materials in its place. (She notes that the city’s Board of Zoning Adjustments is also stricter than it used to be about holding property owners accountable for violating city code prohibiting paving over yards in the name of parking or reduced maintenance.)

Read the rest of the article from Planning Magazine here.

Update 12

Aug 2017

Not-so-fun fact: Paving front yards in excess of 40% is illegal in most neighborhoods.

“The more pavement we have, the less water the ground absorbs. The less water the ground absorbs, the faster the water pours into the storm drains. The faster the water pours into those drains, the more likely it is that the system will become overwhelmed and that the water will back up.” Read this great opinion piece by Jarvis DeBerry published on nola.com on August 12, 2017.

Update 11

Apr 2017

Infiltration Test

We shot this video March 13, 2017, after a rainy weekend on a residential lot in Broadmoor that participated in the Front Yard Initiative. We tested the permeable  Truegrid driveway with help from Anthony Kendrick of Construction EcoServices. According to the results of the ASTM C1781 Test Calculator, the infiltration rate is over 800 inches per hour, with 5 gallons of water infiltrating within a sealed 12″ area in 42 seconds.  The permeable driveway was installed over a year ago.

The TrueGrid was sourced from Quality Sitework Materials and installed by Evans + Lighter Landscape Architecture.

Quick Links

FYI Terms and ConditionsFYI Project Checklist

Design Requirements |  FYI Workshop Presentation  Homeowner Toolkit

Other questions? Check out the Water Collaborative’s Ask a Pro feature.

FAQs

Who is eligible for FYI?

Any homeowner in Orleans Parish is eligible to participate!

Renters may also be eligible with a signed letter from their landlord. Additional pre-approval may be needed from the FYI Team. Please email felice@urbanconservancy.org for details.

I’m trying to sell my house. Am I eligible for FYI?

No. Our program is meant for residents willing to make a long term commitment to the maintenance of their FYI project. If you sell the house, we lose access to the site for inspections and assurances that the project will remain permeable.

I have a short term rental. Am I eligible for FYI?

All potential FYI participants are cross-checked with the City's STR database.

If you have a licensed Accessory STR with the city you may still be eligible.

You are NOT eligible for FYI If you have a Commercial or Temporary STR license without a Homestead Exemption.

STR license definitions: https://www.nola.gov/nola/media/One-Stop-Shop/Safety%20and%20Permits/STR-Brochure-G.pdf

How much does it cost to remove paving?

Concrete removal costs will vary, but $2.50 a square foot seems to be average. Do your best to see how many inches deep your concrete is. We've seen yards with layer after layer get poured as the land subsides underneath. The more layers, the higher the cost.

Where do I report a paving violation?

The city has an online form where you can report anonymously.

http://nola.gov/safety-and-permits/report-a-violation/

Who can I contact from the city with questions about stormwater management?

Email stormwater@nola.gov

Or visit One Stop Shop (7th floor of City Hall) on Wednesdays to speak to a City Planner familiar with stormwater techniques.

Glossary of Terms

Green Infrastructure

A design element for a property that uses landscaped systems or engineered systems that mimic natural systems

Bioswale

A channeled depression or trench that receives and holds rainwater runoff (as from a parking lot) and has vegetation (such as grasses, flowering plants) that rids the water of pollutants. These slow water entering the drainage system during storms.

Rain Garden

A planted depression that allows rainwater runoff from impervious urban areas like roofs, driveways, walkways, and compacted lawn areas to be absorbed into the earth

Infiltration Trenches

Long, narrow, gravel-filled areas. They are located in small drainage areas and are used to direct and store stormwater. They have the added benefit of reducing stormwater pollution before it enters local bodies of water. They work effectively when positioned at building downspouts and around building foundations.

Subsidence

The lowering of a portion of the Earth's crust

Subsidence occurs when large amounts of groundwater have been withdrawn from certain types of soil, such as fine-grained sediments like we have in New Orleans. The soil compacts because the water is partly responsible for holding the ground up. When the water is withdrawn, the soil falls in on itself, causing damage to property and streets (think foundation issues and potholes).

Impervious (non-permeable)

Does not allow water to be absorbed into or through surface, as in concrete, asphalt, roofs

Permeable (pervious)

Allows water to be absorbed into or through the surface, as in permeable paving

Groundwater

Water present beneath the Earth's surface

Recharged Groundwater

A hydrologic process where water moves downward from surface water to groundwater.

Stormwater Runoff

Rainwater that does not soak into the ground but flows over impervious areas or areas already saturated with water

Flow-through Planter Boxes

Planter boxes can be filled with plants that absorb large amounts of water and can be placed directly below the edge of the roof to catch runoff. These planter boxes can help absorb some of the water during rain events and prevent damage to building foundations.

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The next FYI Design Workshop will be in spring 2019.

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Call: 504-717-6187 or email felice@urbanconservancy.org