Five years post-Katrina, the Tulane PRC celebrates a vision for a healthier New Orleans through the adoption of a new master plan

Five years post-Katrina, the Tulane PRC celebrates a vision for a healthier New Orleans through the adoption of a new master plan
Healthscaping – Issue 9
August 26, 2010

Looking back

From a city in shambles to an opportunity to rebuild healthier neighborhoods through the passage of its new master plan, New Orleans has come a long way since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

Barraged by flood waters and emotions, New Orleanians emerged in the months after Katrina with resolve and a new motto in which to live by restore, rebuild, renew. To say restoring the shaken present was a job would be an understatement. The Tulane Prevention Research Center (PRC) did not return to its home at 1440 Canal Street until January 2006. The team quickly realized the scope of work they were funded to complete by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed dramatically, as Katrina brought to the table a historic and unprecedented opportunity to rebuild a healthier New Orleans.

Dr. Thomas A. Farley, Commissioner of Health in New York City and former director of the Tulane PRC, was involved in planning efforts in the immediate aftermath of the storm. Dr. Farley insured that rebuilding New Orleans health infrastructure meant going beyond constructing hospitals and clinics – it meant redesigning healthier neighborhoods.

This concept was featured in the report "Framework for a Healthier Greater New Orleans," which was distributed to local and state government and the media. Conversation around improving the built environment continued throughout the citywide master plan process. The Tulane PRC participated in community meetings to ensure that the master plan included improvements to the built and social environments.

"We knew all bets were off," said Kate Parker-Karst, assistant director of the Tulane PRC. "The master plan process was an opportunity to lend a hand and share our vision for a healthier New Orleans with community leaders."

Looking forward

New Orleans City Council unanimously approved the master plan document on August 12, 2010. Once Mayor Landrieu signs an ordinance supporting the master plan, the council will be barred from making any zoning decisions that conflict with the land use section of the plan.

One major focus of the master plan is maintaining and expanding parks and recreation opportunities to ensure there is a park within walking distance of every resident. This goal includes the development of linear parks and greenways. The plan also calls for securing and improving community gardens, orchards and school garden programs.

"We are committed to help rebuild a healthier New Orleans," said Diego Rose, director of the Tulane PRC. "We have dedicated our five-year funding cycle to research, advocacy and community-engagement projects that will help accomplish this."

The Tulane PRC's core research project will employ community-based participatory research methods to improve the food environment in low-income schools in New Orleans. Specifics of the intervention will be determined by focus groups with students, a project steering committee made up of community members, and input from participating schools. Based on these findings and discussions with schools leaders, intervention components could include modifying school lunch offerings, addressing issues around competitive foods, or working with surrounding establishments such as corner stores or restaurants to offer healthier options for students purchasing food before and after school.

Through a unique partnership with the City of New Orleans, the Tulane PRC led KidsWalk Coalition works directly with the Department of Public Works to make New Orleans' streets safer and more usable for pedestrians and bicyclists. The Coalition is one of 50 partnerships in the country funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities Program.

Field surveyors are completing walking audits of every public school in New Orleans and reporting bike and pedestrian maintenance fixes to the Department of Public Works. KidsWalk staff is assisting the Department of Public Works with the development of a plan that will eliminate barriers in the city's public right of way to individuals with disabilities. The plan will focus on curb ramps throughout Orleans Parish and specify policies for installing and repairing them.

Post-Katrina funding for resurfacing roads is helping to further improve the built environment by enabling the city to construct 45 miles of new bike lanes linking residential neighborhoods to commercial corridors. Tulane PRC researchers are examining the impact of constructing bike lanes on cycling for both transportation and exercise through structured observations of cyclists and pedestrians using city streets before and after bike lanes are installed.

"Studies show people are more physically active in neighborhoods that are designed for walking and bicycling," said Parker-Karst. "The Tulane PRC and our partners are capitalizing on the rebuilding of New Orleans as an opportunity to positively redefine our community and way of life."

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Topics:   built environment

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