Seeds of Recovery

By Renee Carrere
New Orleans, LA (April 17, 2008)- Parkway Partners changes its focus. Among the many nonprofit agencies working toward the recovery and improvement of our city is Parkway Partners, an organization celebrating its 25th anniversary. Founded in 1982 by Flo Schornstein, Parkway Partners was created in response to city budget cuts. There simply was no money available back then to cut and maintain neutral grounds and other public land.

Schornstein realized that manicured green spaces are essential to the urban experience. Parkway Partners’ mission includes the preservation of our urban forest and the transformation of vacant lots into community gardens and pocket parks. The program emphasizes environmental responsibility, education and community and is privately financed. In the past quarter century, Parkway Partners has become a model for other American cities.
For five years, Jean Fahr has been the dynamic head of the agency, which has experienced a focus change since Hurricane Katrina. After the flooding, “I was asked to fly over the city with a crew from the U.S. Department of Wildlife and Fisheries,” Fahr said. “Trees were uprooted, some were split in half and others were reduced to sticks. There was absolutely nothing in the 9th Ward.”
Fahr soon learned that New Orleans had lost about 75 percent of its trees. In fact, a Tulane University study determined that the loss canceled the benefits of a year’s worth of tree growth throughout the rest of the country.
To help tackle this disaster, Fahr and her staff developed a strategy to replant trees that involved the support of local citizens and businesses. Releaf New Orleans includes an educational program to engage the support of schoolchildren and adults in replanting the city.
“I love going to neighborhood associations to talk about replanting our trees,” Fahr said. “People have so many questions about their trees that I started calling myself the Ann Landers of trees. I love building constituency.” Working with neighborhood groups has paid off, she said. A coalition of volunteers has assumed more responsibility for ownership and maintenance of newly planted trees and green spaces.
Since December 2006, 428 trees have been planted on neutral grounds on Elysian Fields Avenue, Broad Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard. The trees will be maintained for a year by a licensed arborist at a cost of $300 to $500 for each tree. It takes a long time for Parkway Partners to raise that much money, Fahr said. The program is planning to plant trees along other major corridors. The program depends on planting help from neighborhood volunteers and Tree Troopers that are trained by Parkway Partners.
More than 4,500 trees have been planted in New Orleans through the Parkway Partners ReLeaf New Orleans initiative, Fahr said. The program also has given away thousands of year-old saplings, she said.
An educational component called the Second Saturday program is held monthly at the Parkway Partners office, 1137 Baronne St. at the corner of Clio. It is a popular program that teaches residents how to garden; classes include growing trees; butterfly and vegetable gardens; and flowers such as roses and bromeliads. Instruction also is presented about irrigation, winterizing and combating termites.
Fahr has been equally excited by the response she’s gotten from schools. She recently received a call from teacher Joy Garrison at Capdau Early College High School on Canal Street, a UNO charter school. Garrison teaches a student leadership class there and her students wanted to participate in a project where they would maintain control while enhancing their community. They decided to replant their school.
“I saw this as a great opportunity for students to understand the importance of forming partnerships to accomplish a goal,” Garrison said. “It broadens their sense of ownership in their school.”
The hands-on planting experience “allows them to understand that when you work on a project you develop a greater since of pride in your place,” she said. “Usually that means you are more apt to take care of it.”
Along with Capdau, schools participating in the development of a curricula where schools grow, care for and propagate gardens with trees are Benjamin Franklin, McDonogh 15, Sophie Wright, Lusher, Lafayette Academy, The International School, Edward Hynes and Capdau Early Learning High School.
The program, available to all schools in the city, requires a commitment from faculty and students, Fahr said.
The final tree planting of the season took place recently in the St. Roch neighborhood. Thanks to a grant by the Alliance for Community Neighborhoods and Home Depot, 50 trees were provided for this project. Neighborhood residents committed to planting them and maintaining them.
Parkway Partners is available to all citizens and Fahr encourages participation in the ReLeaf program, which she sees as essential for the city’s comeback. Studies have shown that where there are more trees and foliage, residents endure less stress, crime rates fall and businesses prosper, she said.
Related Resources:
Times-Picayune: Seeds of Recovery
Parkway Partners