Filed Under:  Environmental, Local, News, Sustainability

Claiborne study to end after two more community forums

30th September 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Susan Buchanan
Contributing Writer

A study that began last year as part of the city’s Livable Claiborne Communities Initiative will wrap up in October with two more community meetings and a final report, said Ashleigh Gardere, the initiative’s new director. She spoke at a lunch held by the NEWCITY Neighborhood Partnership at the Sojourner Truth Center Monday. “The community meetings will review revitalization scenarios for the Claiborne Corridor, and the report will reflect community goals,” she said.

The study, which is considering whether to keep the Claiborne overpass or remove all or part of it, includes a number of neighborhoods and objectives, making it expensive. Spending to date totals $2.1 million, with $1.5 million from the feds and $600,000 in locally matched funding, according to Hayne Rainey, spokesman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

The study is focused on developing the area along Claiborne Ave. from Napoleon to Elysian Fields avenues and between Broad St. on the lake side and Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., Rampart St. and Saint Claude Ave. on the Mississippi River side.

When asked why the study didn’t conclude this summer as planned, Gardere said integrating community development goals and an analysis of transportation modeling took longer than expected. The city’s Regional Planning Commission did the transit modeling. City officials wanted to test findings with residents, along with nonprofit, public, private and philanthropic leaders, and more time was needed to consult with them about final recommendations.

“We want to go to the public with something that maintains integrity to the community process,” Gardere said.

The last two meetings in the study will be held on the evenings of Oct. 7 at Christian Unity Baptist Church at 1700 Conti Street and Oct. 8 at Regional Planning Commission at 10 Veterans Memorial Blvd. At those events, the study’s team of planners, architects and engineers will discuss potential scenarios for redeveloping the Claiborne Corridor, along with implementation strategies.

Goals identified in community meetings from last December to this March include equitable access to economic prosperity—mainly affordable housing and job opportunities, Gardere said. “We want to make sure Claiborne area residents have access to jobs within the corridor, including the new downtown BioDistrict,” she said.

Sustainability, particularly mitigation of floods, is another goal identified by residents. “The plan is to design pilot projects,” she said. “One idea is neighborhood or pocket parks, which would act as retaining ponds when it floods.”

A third goal, and probably the most important one, is preservation of the city’s unique culture, Gardere said. “This is about supporting economic opportunity for traditional culture bearers,” she said. Another goal is improving transportation, whether the overpass stays or not. “Residents have said they want better bus service and more options for bikes and pedestrians,” she said. The Regional Transit Authority and the board of Veolia Transportation, which manages the RTA, have been engaged in the study.

Gardere didn’t mention a resolution by the Port of New Orleans last spring, saying that removal of the Claiborne overpass would hamper truck traffic between the river and its facilities in New Orleans East.

A final goal of the study is implementing or managing change to benefit existing residents. At community meetings, people said they feared being priced out by gentrification and displaced to other parts of the city. Gardere said one recommendation from a March meeting was to keep 50 percent of housing in the Claiborne area affordable. And she said the area’s existing businesses must be included in any plans so that they can stay and flourish.

Gardere said developing one, preferred alternative for the Claiborne overpass was never an objective of the study. Alternatives for the overpass will be given to regional, state and federal transportation agencies this fall for their review. Related goals and revitalization scenarios will be submitted to the U.S. Dept. of Transportation and Dept. of Housing and Urban Development.

Those reviews may take time. But “the city is committed to immediately advancing community goals identified through the study,” Gardere said.

Agencies in the Obama Administration are trying to promote mixed-use, neighborhood development—including healthier, sustainable, pedestrian-friendly communities. Funding of $2.759 million for the Claiborne study is from a $1.328 million HUD Sustainable Communities Challenge Grant—which includes $928,000 in federal cash and a $400,000 local match—and a $1.431 million DOT-Federal Highway Administration TIGER II Infrastructure Planning Grant that includes $1.072 million in federal dollars and a $358,000 local match. Under the DOT-HUD partnership, the feds are pooling resources to build communities in their entirety, instead of focusing on individual projects.

Locally matched funding was provided in part by the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Strategic Opportunities Fund in the Mayor’s Office. Project implementation will be financed with support from the Greater New Orleans Foundation’s Metropolitan Opportunities Fund, Gardere said.

The Claiborne study has encouraged residents to participate in the city’s planning process. “Lessons learned from the study will give us new ways to engage community members, whether it’s in large forums, on porches or at churches,” Gardere said. “We want to organize and invest around what the community thinks is important.”

This article originally published in the September 30, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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