Center for Sustainable Engagement
New Orleans, Louisiana
Following the devastation of back-to-back Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, LA was a veritable ghost town. Flooding from the breached Industrial Canal killed over 1,800 and entire neighborhoods were bulldozed. When evacuees tried to return, they didn’t have many options. Most of the affordable housing was destroyed and those who did own homes faced incredible challenges: no electricity for months; high construction costs; wrangling with insurance companies; FEMA “red tagging.”
Almost 16 years later, across the Lower 9th Ward, the streets are still too quiet for Arthur Johnson, Executive Director of Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement & Development (CSED).
CSED formed in 2006 to advocate for a healthier, more sustainable environment — vital to recovery, rebuilding and reforming the community. Hosting over 1,000 volunteers per year and bringing over $500,000 of service work to the Lower 9th Ward community, CSED focuses on growth.
While no grocery stores have returned, CSED is dedicated to improving food security. They support community gardens, local farmers’ markets, and the development of a new Lower 9 Urban Farm. They’ve developed The Gratitude Garden, which includes a public citrus fruit park, meditative labyrinth, wetlands nursery, and green infrastructure garden. The nursery includes 1,200 cypress tree seedlings which will be planted throughout the coastal wetlands for flood prevention. This sustainable garden restoration project includes community training, economic development awareness, and intergenerational engagement activities.
Their advocacy, policy and research accomplishments to date include:
- Natural Environment: Ongoing restoration of the Bayou Bienvenue Wetlands Triangle through access walkways, viewing platforms, signage, the addition of floating islands, and collaborative research with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and other academic, NGO and governmental organizations and institutions. Construction of CSED’s Environmental Learning & Research Center with the assistance of the Tulane School of Architecture.
- Energy-Efficiency: Installation of attic radiant barriers and broad weatherization measures to improve the energy performance of nearly 200 Lower 9 homes – and counting!
- Food Security: Development of the Lower 9th Ward Food Security Council and new urban farming opportunities for the area. CSED supports numerous community garden spaces and advocates for more access to fresh food while encouraging smart business development. Installation of three standing garden beds behind CSED’s Energy Efficiency Center.
- Built Environment: Community mapping to assess every parcel of land within the Lower 9 as it relates to ownership, usage, and other critical data collection to better inform citywide planning. Finishing and moving into CSED’s Energy Efficiency Center.
- Volunteer Coordination: Facilitating over 1,000 volunteer and volunteer groups per year on more than 500 neighborhood projects – from painting and weatherization to the installation of rain gardens, street beautification and playground restoration.
- Advocacy: Closure of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), research and testimony against the Industrial Canal Lock Replacement project, and continued Corps of Engineers reform efforts.
- Educational Resources: CSED’s growing library of materials include The Lower 9th Ward Resource Guide, A Hazardous Waste Disposal Guide, and The Lower 9 Reporting and Information Guide. The CSED takes seriously the importance of being a community resource. In addition, we publish a weekly e-newsletter, send informational mailers and host numerous community events, meetings and outings.
Written by Kerri McLean