Water Assets Wasted
For a region built on a river and an estuary and created out of swamp, water is remarkably hard to find. Except for Bayou St. John and the beloved lakes and lagoons of Lafreniere Park, Audubon Park, City Park, Joe Brown Park, and Sidney Torres Park, most of the region’s canals and other waterways provide little value as spaces for public life.
Many cities around the world use water to improve public spaces and urban quality. In ancient Shaoxing, China, Da Wu tamed annual floods by digging canals, and those waterways still enrich the landscape and city culture to this day.
In Dutch cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam, beautiful waterways define the identity of entire neighborhoods, spurring development even as they function as part of drainage systems.
In contrast, water in Greater New Orleans is out of sight and out of mind. Existing drainage canals and ditches are typically designed for one function: the speeding of water towards a pump station. Canals are too often unappealing cuts in the landscape, rarely accessible and with most buildings and spaces facing away from them. The waterways that are visible are often stagnant and ignored, while other waterways are hidden behind floodwalls or buried underground.
Improving public access to and investing resources in new and existing water assets are means to revitalizing commercial districts and residential neighborhoods alike, thus building towards a regional water identity.