Baton Rouge and New Orleans are both working with New Orleans/Sydney–based landscape architecture firm, Spackman Mossop Michaels (SMM), to respond to landscape issues within each city. In Baton Rouge, SMM has provided a vision for a greenway that connects City-Brooks Park near LSU’s campus on the south side of the city to the State Capitol grounds to the north, while stitching together adjoining neighborhoods and other smaller landscaped areas along the way. The project received seed funding in 2012 from the EPA’s Greening America’s Capitals program, which also funded similar projects in four other state capitals. In what might be considered Louisiana’s cultural capital, The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA) is also working with SMM to develop landscape strategies to manage the more than 2,300 lots that have been vacated since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Current maintenance methods consist of an average of eighteen mows per year. The low-cost sustainable design solutions produced by SMM look to reduce long-term ground maintenance of these lots, enhance the streetscapes in their often blighted neighborhoods, and improve the perception of lot management done by NORA.
Both projects work with large existing landscapes—several existing parks in Baton Rouge and in New Orleans the vast number of empty lots—though the design response works at a local and tactical scale. “As landscape architects we are often dealing with limited means and strategic deployment of resources to achieve design outcomes that contribute to fairly ambitious urban goals. Both of the projects are about retrofitting existing landscapes to enhance green infrastructure,” stated Elizabeth Mossop and Wes Michaels of SMM.
The Greenway is about making connections. “We are always looking for ways to make green networks of public space in the city; connecting streets, parks, greenways, waterfront, infrastructure corridors, and other urban spaces,” said Mossop and Michaels. This green network presents a rethinking of urbanism from a landscape perspective. Both projects focus on retooling existing infrastructure to perform more complex functions that will make them economically and ecologically sustainable, while also transforming the public’s experience of urban living. Regarding the performance of the vacant lots design, Mossop and Michaels said, “We are looking for solutions that will transform the vacant lands from a management problem into an opportunity for better urban performance. Solutions that will require less energy-intensive maintenance and that will carry the benefits of increased tree canopy, more biodiversity, greater urban amenity, better stormwater management, and higher property values.”
For the Greenway project, a three-day community workshop was held connecting a variety of constituents and local agencies. Out of the workshop, SMM found a “very strong and well organized support for urban cycling in Baton Rouge, and a population of people interested in downtown living and getting around car free.” Additionally, participants desired a design that allowed for implementation in the short-term. Currently, the Baton Rouge Greenway visioning phase has been completed and the city plans to issue RFPs for sections of the project over the coming years. The New Orleans vacant lots program is in design development and will begin construction on 23 lots within the next month, with additional planting to occur in November of this year. The lots will be studied and evaluated after two years to consider implementation at a wider scale.