Where I’m walking: On the odd-numbered (or east) side of the 3200 block of Conti Street in Mid-City, between North Rendon and North Lopez streets, just off the new Lafitte Greenway. Officially opened in November, the Greenway is the long-awaited 2.6 mile pedestrian and bike trail — plus park — that stretches all the way from Armstrong Park in Tremé to North Alexander Street in Mid-City.
As it follows the path of the Carondelet Canal (at one time the waterway that connected Bayou St. John to the French Quarter), the Greenway passes through a host of neighborhoods, including Parkview and Mid-City.
Why I’m here: Ever since the Greenway opened, I have been longing to take a walk and explore this new addition to New Orleans’ green spaces. It took tremendous vision, hard work, persistence and collaboration, but the Friends of Lafitte Greenway and a host of government agencies and donors managed to make this dream come true.
Seen on the street: I choose the 3200 block of Conti Street because its houses back directly onto the Greenway — who wouldn’t want it as their “backyard”? A group of six shotgun houses faces the street, each in a cheerful color. I notice that many of the houses on the opposite side of the street are nearly identical. Together, they form an attractive mini neighborhood with the feel of a small village.
Homing in: I begin my walk at the north end of the block, closest to North Rendon Street, where the first four houses are three bays wide and appear to follow the floor plan of a sidehall house. Although they are obviously new, their design honors historical models in terms of scale and proportion. Each of the four has a hipped roof, simple but attractive brackets under the eaves, and a front porch.
The first house has the only fenced yard on this side of the block. There’s a “Beware of Dog” sign hanging near the gate, but the pooch sleeping on the porch — a Chihuahua — hardly looks ferocious. The residents have displayed an American flag and a Saints fleur de lis along with their festive holiday decorations, which include a garland of faux poinsettias rimming the top of the chain link fence.
To the right, a royal blue house wears a single red bow on the stair banister, quite understated compared with the wealth of decorations on the sage colored house to the left. Farther along, a salmon-colored version of the three-bay model wears a red tinsel garland along the porch railing and a shimmering wreath on the front door. I spy pansies planted at the base of the crape myrtle in the frontyard, a cheerful addition. The fourth house (in a golden yellow) has no holiday décor on display, but a bench on the porch tells me the residents enjoy the scene on the street in the afternoons.
The fifth house blends in well with the tone set by the first four, or is it vice versa? In this case, it’s hard to tell if it’s a renovation or new construction. Like the first four, it is three bays wide, but the front windows are full-length and the porch is supported by columns. An addition on the side is the only one on the block. Painted a dark gray-blue, the house expresses its personality with its vivid yellow door.
The final house on the block at the corner of North Lopez is also a question mark as far as renovation vs. new construction goes. Four bays wide (three windows and a door) and painted a handsome shade of terra cotta, it flies a banner of prayer flags — suitable for all seasons.
Heard on the Street: I meet Lawrence Smith and his dog Sandy the second I set foot on the block. His home is across from the ones I am exploring, though it is cut from the same cloth.
Smith has lived on the block for four years and loves his new home and neighbors. He also finds the Greenway to be a special amenity.
“I like to take Sandy over there for walks,” he says. Sandy is a frisky 18 months old: “They tell me she won’t begin to settle down until she’s about 4.”
Smith adopted Sandy from a neighbor of his mother’s who was moving away. Ever since, they have been constant companions, although Sandy isn’t very excited about the bath that Smith is giving her.
I notice both the holiday décor and the handsome landscaping at Smith’s home: A crape myrtle in the front yard, a low row of boxwoods surrounding a flower bed, and a Japanese blueberry tree between the sidewalk and the street.
“I like to do a little decorating every year,” Smith says. And when I ask if he has landscaping experience, he answers in the affirmative. “Fourteen years with the Plant Gallery.”
One of Smith’s favorite projects is decorating the Roosevelt Hotel lobby for the holidays. The outfit he works for is responsible for the glittering alley of white lights and trees that draws hundreds to the lobby in a holiday tradition.
“It doesn’t look like much at first, but then we do a little more and a little more and it all comes together,” he says. “To see the joy on people’s faces, that’s what makes me happy.”
R. Stephanie Bruno writes about houses and gardens. Contact her at rstephanie email@example.com