November 12, 2007
Tulane art historian Carol Reese is working with two New Orleans organizations to bring together design professors and students from several universities and rehabilitate green spaces in two historic neighborhoods that were ruined in Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath.
The collaborative project focuses on the Pontchartrain Park and Gentilly Woods areas of New Orleans, affectionately known as Pontilly. Working with Reese are Longue Vue House and Gardens and the Pontilly Neighborhood Association.
Students from Tulane, Louisiana State University, Southern University and the University of Virginia, along with professors who are architects and landscape architects, are producing proposals for the redesign of Pontilly.
The proposals will express an ecologically responsible restoration of Pontilly’s private gardens and public rights-of-ways and recreational spaces for Pontchartrain Park, according to Reese.
Both Pontchartrain Park and Gentilly Woods came about in the early 1950s in the era of "separate but equal" racial policies, she says. Gentilly Woods was originally developed for white residents only, while Pontchartrain Park Homes, developed by philanthropists and civil-rights activists Edith and Edgar Stern, was constructed north of Gentilly Woods as the first middle-class and professional African American community. Pontchartrain Park, New Orleans' third-largest civic park, was designed in that neighborhood to provide recreational opportunities for blacks only, she adds.
Both Pontchartrain Park and Gentilly Woods were completely submerged with water when the levee system failed after Hurricane Katrina. Floodwaters rose up to eight feet in that area and remained for several weeks.
Today, Pontilly residents have come together in an effort to rebuild into an ecologically conscious, historical New Orleans community.
Nonprofit organizations Longue Vue House and Gardens, which was the home of Edith and Edgar Stern, and the Pontilly Disaster Collaborative recently sponsored a four-day design weekend to propose ecologically sustainable plans for landscape design, remediation and rehabilitation.
“The design weekend was the first step in our collaborative effort to understand what must be done with Pontilly’s green spaces to make them ecologically responsive and to return them to an improved public role in the city,” says Reese, who is an associate professor in the Tulane School of Architecture. “We want to produce sustainable landscaping alternatives not only for Pontilly, but also as models for other neighborhoods.”
Reese’s work has been supported by a community-based research grant from Tulane’s Center for Public Service. Research assistants, hired by Reese with the grant to assist in the Pontilly project, are writing a National Register Historic District nomination for Pontchartrain Park.
Since the park is more than 50 years old, it qualifies to be registered as a historic district, adds Reese, who also serves as the Harvey-Wadsworth Professor of Urban Affairs at Tulane.
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