The Big Easy Rebuilds Green

This past Saturday marked the first day of Historic Green, a campaign in New Orleans "to preserve history, incorporate sustainable design and return the community to its former state." Centered in two New Orleans neighborhoods hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 - Holy Cross Neighborhood and the Lower Ninth Ward - hundreds of volunteers will undertake 12 projects from March 8 - 23 that will help rebuild a sustainable city.

Of course, many of these projects started well before March 8 and will last well past March 23, but this event, led by the Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development (CSED), is aimed at bringing it all together for one big push. During these two weeks, hundreds of students and young professionals in the construction industry will converge on New Orleans, bringing their energy and ideas to help the people of the Lower Ninth revitalize their community. Architects, engineers, planners, landscape architects, interior designers and contractors will work hand-in-hand with neighborhood residents to restore their historic houses, parks, playgrounds and community centers."In the more than two years since Hurricane Katrina devastated much of the Gulf Coast, many have wondered how they could help beyond assisting the initial relief efforts in the affected areas," said Pam Dashiell, executive director of CSED in New Orleans. "We're leading a unique grassroots effort to go the next step to rebuild this historic landmark - this time green."

Historic Green organizers say that the two targeted neighborhoods were submerged in 10 feet of water for three weeks after a levee broke when Katrina moved through. Nearly 6,000 residents were displaced, and numerous schools, churches and businesses were destroyed or severely damaged.

The Sierra Club is spear-heading a few of the 12 projects, including helping clean up four restored homes and then painting them with donated paint that does not contain any "volatile organic compounds."

Darryl Malek-Wiley, a Sierra Club environmental justice organizer in New Orleans, said he's most excited by the number of volunteers they've seen come to town in only the first week of Historic Green.

"I'm excited by the energy we're seeing in our younger volunteers coming down," he explained. "The folks in these neighborhoods have been working for two and a half years - there are still people struggling to get back into their homes. These volunteers show that people haven't forgotten what's going on down here."

Close to 40 student volunteers have been working on the four home restorations this week so far, but Malek-Wiley added that the Historic Green volunteers really come from every age group, as well as from just about every coalition imaginable.

"The one thing about the neighborhood here is that we've all worked together since the storm. We know it's not going to the be the government that helps, and that means building a broad coalition of faith groups, community groups, college students, the elderly - everybody."

The Historic Green projects include:
-Helping Lower Ninth Ward homeowners to "green up" their historic properties with funding and materials from the World Monuments Fund, the National Trust For Historic Preservation, the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans, the Preservation Trades Network, Global Green, the Alliance for Affordable Energy and the US Green Building Council
-Providing free sustainable rebuilding consulting services in cooperation with the CSED and its partners
-Implementing a green deconstruction of homes that are beyond repair and reusing materials in cooperation with the Building Materials Reuse Association, the Preservation Resource Center and others.
-Initiating a playground/park rehab
-Planting and demonstrating the construction of rain gardens to absorb rainwater runoff from impervious urban areas like roofs, driveways, walkways and compacted lawn areas
-Carrying out bayou restoration and access projects in cooperation with the Sierra Club and several university groups
-Assisting on the restoration and greening of the Greater Little Zion Baptist Church, the Lower Ninth Ward Village, and other new and re-opened community facilities
-Offering neighborhood survey services in cooperation with the Lower Ninth Ward's Neighborhood Empowerment Network Association

Next week Malek-Wiley said students from the University of Wisconsin will arrive to continue their two-year project of restoring cypress bayous in the area.

For all the sustainable and green building - of homes and nature - Malek-Wiley said New Orleans right now is a great example of the green economy. Neighborhoods want to come back as carbon neutral and lead the nation, and the Historic Green organizers want the event to become annual.

"Green jobs are happening here right now," he said. "There are many people investing in sustainability here - from Brad Pitt's Global Green project, to the $20 million donation from the chairman of Barnes & Noble. There's lot of activity for architects and engineers and green building designers. Students can read about these things in their textbooks, but they can find it all down here."

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