It’s loud underneath Interstate 610 at Paris Avenue. Cars and trucks barrel overhead, and the overpass rumbles and thumps. But there are other noises contributing to the sea of sound: skateboards.
“This space actually used to be a park. (New Orleans Mayor) Dutch Morial made it a park in 1980,” said Jackson Blalock, a skater who has studied architecture. He’s with Transitional Spaces, a local nonprofit that wants to put a skate park in every neighborhood.
“It was vacated and torn down sometime between then and now and had become a burned-out-car graveyard,” he said. “Skaters started cleaning it up once they realized they could skate on this huge 50,000-square-foot expanse of concrete.”
When the city first got wind of the project, officials wanted to shut it down. But once they realized the location used to be a park, they decided to get involved, Blalock said. So did Tulane City Center, the research and outreach arm of the Tulane University School of Architecture.
“The skate park location is underneath the 610 at Paris Avenue. The skaters refer to it as the Paris-site, which is why it’s Parisite,” said Emilie Taylor, design build manager at Tulane City Center.
Taylor liked the idea of doing something useful with the neglected underbelly of the interstate. She also liked that Transitional Spaces’ mission wasn’t just about skate parks but about sustainable land use. In fact, many skate parks are built on unused public space.
“A lot of them originated in civic infrastructure, drainage canals and things like that,” she said.
As he designed the skate park under the interstate, Blalock saw he could go beyond sustainable land use and address a specific need in New Orleans: water management.
“We noticed really early on that when it rains, the water goes pouring off the side of the interstate,” he said. “So when you have a rainstorm of any size, that’s a huge amount of water hitting down. Where is it going? Straight off into the city’s pumping stations.”
So with that thought in mind, Parisite Skate Park will be designed to help the city manage floodwater. This is done with rain gardens — dug-out areas filled with layers of gravel and sand and topped with wetlands plants.
Taylor said the point of a rain garden is to capture and slow down the water on-site, instead of sending it straight to the storm sewers.
“Anything that goes to the storm sewers has to be pumped out, and we all know, during a heavy rain, the pumps get overloaded really fast,” he said. “So the more we can slow water on-site and return it to the ground, the better it is for all of us.”
The next thing to do was bring in a landscape architect. Dana Brown and Associates is a landscape architecture and planning firm specializing in water management.
Brown, whose book “Using Plants for Stormwater Management” was just released, says detaining water at the skate park can help reduce flooding in the surrounding neighborhood.
“It’s really all about what we call localized flooding,” Brown said. “A lot of people see that in their neighborhoods. It’s about a low point — it all collects there. So somebody can’t get in their house, or they can’t get in that park, or they can’t get in their driveway, or they’re worried about it getting up to their doorstep.”
This makes the redesigned Parisite Skate Park a good neighbor. But city officials wanted one more assurance before they got on board. What’s pushed this skate park through is making sure people who have no interest in skateboarding can use it, too. It will have lots of signage, a welcoming entranceway and grassy seating areas.
“It’s important to us that we make a place that’s a park that happens to be a great place to skate,” Taylor said
But the skaters are the most excited. Since rapper Lil Wayne’s Trukstop Skate Park in the Lower 9th Ward failed, this will be the first official skate park in New Orleans.
Now the team is waiting on some final approvals from the city before breaking ground. Taylor thinks that should happen in June, and Blalock hopes construction is complete by the end of the summer.
This story originally ran on 89.9 WWNO, New Orleans Public Radio, as part of a collaboration with NolaVie.com, with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.