Professor Elizabeth Mossop and Associate Professor Wes Michaels of the LSU Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture have received a $242,399 grant from the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA) to research and implement ecologically and economically sustainable landscape designs on vacant land in New Orleans.
NORA owns approximately 2,300 vacant lots in New Orleans, which were transferred to NORA after the Road Home buyout program following Hurricane Katrina. NORA maintains each of these properties with regular mowing, and has partnered with landscape architects from LSU to explore strategies for enhancing some of these vacant properties by planting wildflowers, trees, and meadows and installing amenities such as fences and birdhouses. The goal is to beautify and stabilize neighborhoods still recovering from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, improve ecosystem services on NORA properties, and help reduce NORA’s long-term vacant lot maintenance costs.
“We hope to introduce more productive methods of maintenance and will be testing a number of different strategies,” said Mossop. “There has to be a balance between the ecological needs and neighborhood perception,” said Michaels. “In the end, we want to add to the value of these neighborhoods, and we want these lots to be seen as amenities by the residents.”
Some of the funds from the grant went to hiring a research associate, Michael Averitt, who received his Master of Landscape Architecture from the University of Texas at Austin. Averitt was selected out of a very competitive hiring process, Mossop said. Averitt will help Mossop and Michaels put together proposals for each of the test plots, which will be implemented and studied over the next two and a half years. The team will begin planting the plots this spring.
Creating more permanent wildflower meadows—similar to how some highways are managed—will be one method of treatment. The areas with lower elevations and nearby freeways will be planted with trees, such as native cypresses, to establish canopies that help increase biodiversity, slow down and filter storm-water runoff, mitigate pollution, and function as sound barriers. Mossop and Michaels are designing a short permeable fence for the front of the lots to deter dumping and further signal that the properties are being cared for. The research team will study the ecological performance of the test lots for two years, using the research and data they collect to develop a system to roll out across the city.
“The strategies we are proposing will go beyond what has been tried in other cities, partly because NORA is very forward thinking about management methods that are more economically and environmentally effective,” said Mossop.
The project is funded through NORA by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
IMAGE & TEXT | Courtesy of LSU