Spaces to Places

Transforming Public Spaces into Vibrant Places for the Community.

Rebuilding New Orleans Block by Block: Lasalle Street Better Block

By Kelli A. Walker
Sr. Director of Governmental Affairs
New Orleans Metropolitan Association of REALTORS®

When our association was approached about working on a Better Block project for the NAR Annual Conference here in New Orleans, I immediately knew this was something we had to do. The city of New Orleans is approaching 10 years since Hurricane Katrina, and while we have come a long way in our recovery, there is still work to be done. The Better Block project provided us with a unique opportunity as a local REALTOR® association to work with community partners, the local government, residents, and the business community to revitalize an area in desperate need of assistance but lacking in the resources to see it through.

One of our first partners was the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA) and we immediately began working with them to identify the perfect location for our space. The city has made tremendous efforts to rehabilitate and revitalize neighborhoods and business districts, so finding an area that had a vision but lacked adequate resources was initially more difficult than we had imagined. We ended up finding what has become a great space and a perfect partnership in Central City.

We identified a portion of LaSalle Street that looked as though it had been forgotten. Along one side, the former site of the Magnolia Housing Projects had been redeveloped into exquisite mixed-income housing. Across the street and a couple blocks over, a vacant lot had been transformed into the Market on LaSalle, where nearby residents have become entrepreneurs, selling their goods to neighbors and other New Orleanians.  However, in the midst of this vibrant market and attractive new housing, the area is still in in need of rehabilitation and reactivation including a closed seafood restaurant, a vacant lot, a boarded up single family home, and the historic Dew Drop Inn. The Dew Drop Inn was a combination nightclub, hotel, restaurant and barber shop that was very popular from the mid-1940s to the late 1960s, once hosting acts from Ray Charles to Little Richard. This area became the focus of Better Block NOLA.

The New Orleans Metropolitan Association of REALTORS® and NORA then partnered with Harmony Neighborhood Development, as well as the owners of the Dew Drop Inn and the seafood restaurant, to begin working on the project. We participated in a keynote presentation and workshop with Andrew Howard from Team Better Block, which we were able to host using funds from a NAR Smart Growth Grant. After getting information on best practices, guidance on how much we could feasibly accomplish, and a packet of instructions on building pallet furniture, we began to work on turning the vision into reality.

Better Block New Orleans Plan
Better Block New Orleans Plan

Typical Better Block projects have activated a commercial corridor on both sides of a street. In true New Orleans fashion, we’re doing this one a little differently. Because Harmony Oaks is on one side of LaSalle, we are only activating the opposite side. Even so, we have many exciting things planned for the space. We are reducing the street in front of the space from two lanes to one, adding a bike lane and parklets in the closed space. We are using the restaurant for its intended purpose, turning it into Café LaSalle, where attendees can purchase food from local vendors and enjoy café seating. We are placing a stage in the vacant lot, and hope to have 3-4 local bands playing everything from jazz to blues to brass music. The Dew Drop Inn will be partially open for people to learn about the site and to see what the plans are for its resurrection.  Additionally, we are hoping to use the boarded house as part of an art installation where local children can showcase their dreams for themselves and the community.

Better Block New Orleans Site
Better Block New Orleans Site

We hope those attending the conference will join us on November 7th from 5-9 pm for a great night of music, history, kids’ activities, and great local food, as we work to bring back a corridor that is an integral part of the history of New Orleans.  See more information on the Better Block event on 11/7 in NOLA.

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Community Outreach Programs

Housing Opportunity Grant
Housing Opportunity Grants support state and local REALTOR® Associations’ affordable housing activities. The goal of the program is to position REALTORS® as leaders in improving their communities by creating affordable housing
opportunities.

Smart Growth Grant
Smart growth is an approach to development that encourages a mix of building types and uses, diverse housing and transportation options, development within existing neighborhoods, and community engagement. The Smart Growth Program offers state and local REALTOR® Associations to way to engage with government officials, community partners and the general public in planning and designing community’s future.

Diversity
Planned diversity initiatives makes good business sense. REALTOR® Associations with well-planned diversity programs create a stronger sense of community, particularly in neighborhoods with high concentrations of foreign-born and minority residents who are moving up the socioeconomic ladder and are buying homes.

NAR Placemaking Resources

Placemaking Guide: A Guide to Transform a Public Space into a Community Place
REALTORS® and state and local association staff can learn the details of Placemaking, the kinds of projects placemaking entails, how to organize them, and where to go for assistance and resources.

Placemaking Webinar Series
Our Placemaking Webinar Series will provide more in depth information on the various types of Placemaking and how REALTORS® were involved in Placemaking activities in their communities.

Placemaking Grant
The Placemaking Grant funds the creation of new public spaces, like pocket parks, trails & gardens, in a community. The grant focuses on “lighter, cheaper, quicker” placemaking projects, which can be built under a year and cost less  than $200,000.

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Placemaking

Placemaking is a way to make your community a better place to live and work by transforming public spaces into vibrant community places.