Due to advocacy efforts, in large part by PRC partner Healthy Community Services (HCS), the city of New Orleans laid the groundwork for a monumental feat earlier this year when its city council unanimously passed Ordinance #32-399, mandating the use of permeable paving materials for all public works projects starting in January 2021. This mandate is significant because permeable pavement (or green pavement) allows stormwater to trickle down into the ground, reducing standing water and the health risks associated with it. Without permeable pavement, stormwater is left to become runoff and accumulate on the surface, leading to a grave and unyielding challenge in the city of New Orleans; flooding.
Standing water from flooding poses significant health risks. For example, standing water raises the rates of disease-carrying insects like mosquitoes, and spurs the growth of mold and property damage as it infiltrates homes and businesses. Additionally, prolonged flooding prompts long term damage to city sewage pumps and equipment, costing taxpayers millions of dollars in repairs.
The passage of Ordinance #32-399 is a vital first step in modernizing green infrastructure in the city and it could not have happened without a grassroots process that focused on putting the concerns of community members first. This level of change did not come easily. The HCS partners had been doing this much needed green infrastructure work to mitigate flooding for years and were frustrated by slow progress on the policy front, and making movement with some key policymakers. HCS engaged the ISC team to help brainstorm and problem-solve solutions and with a couple identified approaches under their belts, the HCS team forged ahead.
They continued pursuing meetings with key officials from the city and organizing with local advocates including the Water Wise Neighborhood Champions (WWNC), a group of community leaders trained in green infrastructure planning, design, and implementation. These strategies paid off. The ordinance unanimously passed on May 21, 2020. Due to these socially distant times, city council meetings were held virtually and required that public comments also be submitted virtually; yet, these shifts did not stop HCS – WWNC collaboration from organizing and fostering change.
“This city ordinance would not have been not have possible without the commitment, planning and pointed advocacy [of] WWNC,” said Angela Chalk, Executive Director of Healthy Community Services (HCS). HCS, Water Wise Gulf South, Greater Treme Consortium and the Bunny Friend Neighborhood Association, partnered with WWNC to facilitate community strategy meetings to develop a plan of action. As a result, a collective list of concerns were presented to their respective city council members. The list included the presence of illegal driveways, lack of accountability for contractors to meet proper industry standards, the use of non-sustainable building materials, and the modernization of permitting policies specifically aimed at addressing green infrastructure.
“What was most important,” Angela pointed out, “was the participation of our youngest neighborhood champion, Calcea Johnson. Calcea articulated her desire for changes that affect youth populations, specifically by ensuring more youth are involved in these kinds of decision-making processes regarding the future of New Orleans. Calcea’s voice was heard loud and clear that her generation is focused on climate issues.”
Looking ahead, Angela sees a promising future for the city’s ordinances, policies, and rules to incorporate green infrastructure interventions. “Conditions will be different because residents are requiring more transparency from policy makers and are very participatory in the process of modernizing the city’s ordinances,” she explained. In fact, WWNC are now infiltrating local boards and commissions including the Sewerage & Water Board Advisory Committee. In addition, they are rapidly becoming entrepreneurs in the green sector – developing the workforce that will plan, design, and install green infrastructure projects throughout the city including the newly mandated permeable pavements.