Jeanne John recently planted some trees to help with drainage issues in her block of Piedmont Drive in Gentilly Terrace. But she’d like to do more, she said.
So on Saturday morning, John attended a two-hour Community Forum on Climate & Equity at the Milne Rec Center and brainstormed with four dozen other New Orleanians, many of them leaders in the neighborhoods that make up Gentilly and the rest of City Council District D.
The moderator, Colette Pichon Battle of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy, led the residents through a process that felt similar to post-Katrina community-input charrettes.
Participants used colored sticky-notes to rank their concerns and talked about ways to limit trash, reduce water use, provide better bike lanes and public transportation, and train residents for jobs in environmental industries.
To begin, Pichon Battle asked that participants agree on one conclusion: “Climate change is for real,” she said, explaining the science behind greenhouses gases.
“We’re in a very precarious position that is supercharged because of existing inequities,” said Monique Harden, the assistant director for law and policy at the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, as she outlined research showing that low-income people and minorities will be hit “first and worst” by climate change because of historic housing patterns and other factors.
The idea behind the Climate & Equity forums is that the inequitable effects of climate change can be combated at the grass-roots level, if residents have a say in what needs to be done.
“We’re learning that people already know what to do, from everyday experience,” said Ella Delio, director of environmental and regional initiatives for the Greater New Orleans Foundation, which is hosting the forums along with the city’s Office of Resilience and Sustainability, the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy and the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice.
During Friday night’s forum in the Treme neighborhood, for instance, participants noted that the Historic District Landmarks Commission does not allow residents who own historic buildings to add solar panels to their roofs, if the panels would be visible from the street.
Seven forums will be held within a week’s time, with at least one in each of the city’s five City Council districts. A report on the results will be issued by the end of the year.
Each neighborhood faces both shared and unique challenges, said Harden, who hears specific concerns from residents in eastern New Orleans and the Lower 9th Ward, where illegal dumping is endemic. The residents of Gordon Plaza, which was built on a landfill, have other grave concerns about the toxins they breathe and ingest, she said.
Across the table, Jeanne John wrote her waste-reduction concern onto a neon-green sticky note. “We can’t have endless landfills,” she penned in careful cursive script.
Last year, former Mayor Mitch Landrieu released the city’s 72-page Climate Action strategy, which set goals that should be reached by 2030.
Planning sessions like these will create specific initiatives to spur environmental entrepreneurship, modernized energy use and reduction strategies to cut waste by half by 2030 and to reduce reliance on the automobile to half of all trips by 2030, by increasing the use of bicycle, pedestrian and public-transportation options.
Jennifer Green, who had been selected by other Gentilly leaders to represent them throughout the Climate & Equity process, said she had met with experts and gotten up to speed on all of the specific research goals. “I’ve learned more about transportation than I ever wanted to,” she said.
But she also recently received a new incentive for this work. “I have a granddaughter now,” Green said, “Because of her, I’m automatically thinking 30, 40 and 50 years down the road.”
Upcoming meetings hosted by the Community Forum on Climate & Equity:
Monday, noon to 2 p.m., at the Andrew P. Sanchez Multi-Service Center, 1616 Caffin Ave.
Monday, 6 to 8 p.m., at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center, 1712 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.
Thursday, 6 to 8 p.m., at the Cut-off Recreation Center, 6600 Belgrade St.
Thursday 10 a.m. to noon, at the Carrollton/Hollygrove Senior Center, 8301 Olive St.
Friday, 6 to 8 p.m., at Maria Goretti Catholic Church, 7300 Crowder Blvd.