Less Paving Equals Less Flooding

article courtesy the URBAN CONSERVANCY

Here’s the Deal

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A New Orleans front yard/parking lot.

In recent years New Orleans has seen an increase in the amount of paved over front yards throughout the city. Property owners are replacing their green spaces in favor of concrete and other impermeable surfaces in an effort to provide additional parking and/or reduce yard maintenance. These impervious surfaces affect more than the single lot on which they sit. The issue of rampant front yard paving is a community issue that has broad and significant effects on the city of New Orleans.

The detrimental effects have an impact on:

Aesthetics – Green space is lost as front yards are converted to parking lots and some cities have seen significant drops in property values as yard paving spreads in concentrated neighborhoods.

Quality of Life/Public Safety
– Cars parked in front yard lots obstruct sidewalks and eliminate the public right of way. In many cases, pedestrians are forced into the street due to the loss of this vital public space. Additionally, curb cuts performed to create front yard driveways eliminate already scarce public street-parking spaces.

Stormwater Management
– Paved yards do not allow rainwater to soak into soil, instead diverting it into the street and stormsewer system. This loss of impermeable surfaces leads to more street flooding and sewer backups, increased pressure on infrastructure, more runoff pollutants entering waterways, and increased subsidence.

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Moving Forward

The result of our efforts to design an incentive program for New Orleans is the Front Yard Initiative (FYI).

The goal of FYI is to provide New Orleans residents an opportunity to remove unwanted paving from their neighborhoods. The program will assist residents on blocks where 4-5 homes are willing to voluntarily remove front yard impermeable surfacing in favor of a yard planted with green, native plants with an emphasis on utilizing stormwater best management practices (BMPs) and Complete Streets methodology. The program aims to further the sustainability and resilience goals spelled out in the GNO Urban Water Plan, Article 23 of the Draft CZO, the New Orleans Master Plan, in addition to complementing the Complete Streets policy.

Fighting the Good Fight

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.

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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 an incentive 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. Read the story here. 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.

***UPDATES***

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Dana discusses FYI and the problems related to excessive paving

Dana recently presented for Parkway Partner’s Green Keepers program on the effects of excessive paving and the exciting alternatives proposed by FYI. The Green Keepers program focuses on green infrastructure and how it can drastically improve how we live with stormwater in New Orleans.

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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 here.

Organizations that would like us to present or concerned citizens that are interested in learning more about our work can reach us by phone at 504-232-7821 or by email at dana@urbanconservancy.org or travis@urbanconservancy.org.

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