Do You Know What It Means to Green New Orleans?

I’ve recently moved to New Orleans from New York City. Beyond my initial delight about the blooming moonflowers and good coffee, I’m impressed with the green momentum of the Crescent City.

Three and a half years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, New Orleans’ revitalization continues. Statistics differ, but recent figures from the Community Data Center suggest the city population is approximately 300,000, close to 70 percent of its pre-Hurricane Katrina size. Unemployment rates are high and the public education and legal systems urgently need resources. Citywide the requests grow. Only policies informed by community needs will support long-term progress.

Amidst the challenges is a remarkable vitality, a life force as artful as the oak trees lining St. Charles Avenue. Live music and Second Lines reflect a city that honors its heritage, while new additions, like the Prospect.1 biennial, embrace the future. It makes sense that this city of rebirth is a locus for sustainable design, green non-profit groups, and art projects that are both innovative and eco-aware.

The art exhibition Prospect.1 (P.1), conceived and hosted in New Orleans for the past three months. In venues across the region, P.1 explores the contemporary zeitgeist through pieces such as the “Emergency Response Studio” by the artist Paul Villinski. The solar-powered mobile art studio was repurposed from a salvaged FEMA-style trailer. Villinski conceived the project in response to the devastation of post-Katrina New Orleans as “a symbol of transformation and possibility.” The piece is visually arresting and a powerful commentary, a playful reconstruction of the formaldehyde-infused FEMA trailer. Villinski says that he gutted the 30-foot Gulfstream “Cavalier”, replacing the toxic materials with “clean tech” solutions. The studio is powered by a 1.6 kilowatt photo-voltaic solar panel system with additional power from a micro-wind turbine. Eight hefty batteries store the power and are visible through a translucent Lucite floor.

P.1 describes the Emergency Response Studio as: “a prototype for self-sufficient, solar-powered mobile housing which explores the application of sustainable materials in the construction of trailers and other forms of temporary housing. It uses recycled denim insulation, zero-VOC paints, bamboo cabinetry, compact fluorescent lighting, reclaimed wood and floor tiles made from linseed oil, minimizing the structure’s carbon footprint.”

This past Autumn, the U.S. Treasury announced that the American Community Renewable Energy Fund was one of 70 organizations selected to for $3.5 billion in tax credits for use in low-income communities. New Orleans stands to benefit from these resources. One local provider of renewable energy systems is South Coast Solar, a New Orleans contractor specializing in solar powered system design.

In 2007, when the actor Brad Pitt filmed the movie “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” in New Orleans, he was inspired by the residents of the Lower 9th Ward. According to his website, Make It, Pitt resolved to help the Lower 9th rebuild while nurturing the community’s unique spirit. He worked with community leaders and the “Global Green” organization to sponsor an architecture competition aimed at generating sustainable solutions for rebuilding.

Close to the 9th Ward is the Bywater, a historic neighborhood humming with creative energy. The Bywater’s Green Project resells salvaged construction materials at a low cost to the community. They also offer environmental education workshops.

Also in the Bywater is The Studio at Colton, one of the most creative examples of “re-use” I’ve ever experienced. Just blocks from the French Quarter, the Studio at Colton is a new arts venue in the massive Charles J. Colton Middle School which was abandoned after low enrollment and storm damage in 2005. Now it’s home to the studios of 78 artists showcasing their crafts: puppetry, sculptures, paintings, writing, culinary arts, photographic work and performances. Each artist at Colton offers a free educational component further solidifying its symbiosis with the community. The heat still doesn’t work and there is only one restroom, but hour to hour the Studio at Colton is a beehive of activity. Even the roof is being creatively re-used; artists are planning to grow organic produce and lay solar panels.

One of Colton’s residents is the Thalweg Studio, a firm dedicated to imaginative environmental designs. Their projects, such as the P.1 art map of New Orleans, synthesize interdisciplinary perspectives and fuse elements of landscape, urbanism, and ecology.

While there is no comprehensive system for recycling in the city, there are drop off facilities and patchwork, fee-based services. The Capital Area Corporate Recycling Council recycles electronic waste, including computers processors, monitors, keyboards, printers and scanners, phones and cellphones, digital cameras, and video games. They also provide non-profits with electronic equipment and technical support at low prices. Uptown Computer also recycles old electronics and even pay for donations. Kinko’s, Office Depots, and the Whole Foods on Magazine Street let you recycle cellphones and printer ink cartridges.

I just joined the New Orleans Freecycle Group. The Freecycle Network is a grassroots movement of people who are give (and get) stuff for free. Modern day bartering!

And, further proof of the greening of New Orleans, the iconic Mardis Gras beads–visible everywhere from tree branches to sidewalks to kid’s backpacks–are accepted for recycling. Arc-GNO accepts Mardi Gras beads that are recycled and sold to float riders. Beads are accepted at three locations in Greater New Orleans (call 504.837.5105 for specifics).

For more information, visit:

Posted by: Margot Douaihy


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