Gentilly Resilience District is getting ready for construction boom
By Jesse Baum, Gentilly Messenger
Some major Gentilly Resilience District projects are shovel-ready after years of planning, the city’s Sustainability and Resilience officials told a gathering of Gentilly residents this week.
On Tuesday night (March 7), the Gentilly Resilience District team, District D City Councilman Eugene Green, representatives from the Mayor’s Office and 92 attendees from Gentilly and surrounding neighborhoods met at the Mosquito Control Board office on 2100 Leon C. Simon Drive for an update on the Gentilly Resilience District Project.
Mary Kincaid, the Sustainable Infrastructure program manager for New Orleans, gave the meeting presentation to a packed room.“One thing this program is going to do is reduce our exposure to mosquitoes,” said Kincaid, adding: “We want to bring you the good news about what we’re gonna experience this year and next year.”
According to Kincaid, the Resilience District will start $85 million in construction this year, for projects that will store millions of gallons of stormwater and add brand-new and beautifully landscaped parklands to Gentilly.
“The first thing that’s on everyone’s mind is flooding,” acknowledged Kincaid. Overall, the project will store 47 million gallons of water, meaning that during storms the city’s pumps will have 47 million fewer gallons of water to remove from the drains.
“Nature is erratic,” Kincaid said. “And with climate change, it’s looking increasingly erratic.”
Planning for the Resilience District projects has continued through Covid quarantines, the city’s hacking incident and multiple natural disasters. Because the award for the project is a federally funded grant, the city has a set amount of time in which they must spend the funding for the project. This deadline has been extended to 2025.
“And we’re not the slowest spender,” said Kincaid, though New Orleans’ award is one of the largest.
The Gentilly Resilience District is a project funded through the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Natural Disaster Resilience Competition grants. New Orleans was awarded $141 million dollars for its proposal. The money is going toward the retrofitting and redesign of several large parks and public spaces in Gentilly, one of New Orleans’ lowest-lying and most flood-prone areas.
The Resilience District project expands on work funded by FEMA to reduce flooding and focuses on water storage and bioactive design — using retention tanks and native plantings to store water, improve air quality, and ease the strain on the city’s overworked, antique pump and drainage system.
The Resilience District project includes landscaping the DIllard Wetlands, a forested park that will feature wheelchair accessible trails; creating the Mirabeau Water Gardens, which will cover 25 acres at the site that was formerly St. Joseph’s Convent; adding street trees and native shrub plantings; remodeling Filmore Playground and Gatto Park; and adding recreational facilities to McDonogh 35 High School and Willie Hall Playground.
Despite the diverse nature of the projects within the Resilience District, overall the project has been guided by the recognition that green space and access to nature have beneficial impacts beyond flooding prevention. Green spaces have demonstrated positive impacts on mental health, and also reduce the urban heat island effect, and improve air quality.
Throughout the years of project development, the Resilience District has hosted dozens of community engagement meetings and opportunities for public feedback, and has included a focus on economic sustainability as well as environmental sustainability.
The Resilience District team has worked with the Office of Workforce Development and their Thrive green jobs program. Kincaid also mentioned that they have “de-bundled” a combined $77 million worth of projects within the Resilience District so that smaller construction companies can submit construction bids.
During a Q&A following the presentation, attendees asked about park maintenance and cleaning, as well as the status of construction bids on the various projects.
After years of planning and design work, construction is imminent for the Resilience District. The St. Anthony Green Streets and Mirabeau Gardens are set to break ground this summer, with work on Elysian Fields’ blue-green corridor following in the fall.