A parks non-profit takes a neighborhood under its wing

New Orleans, LA – August 5, 2002 – When the staff of Parkway Partners decided to relocate their headquarters two years ago, they bucked a longstanding trend by moving to Central City, a once-thriving neighborhood that many residents and businesses had abandoned for the suburbs long ago.

Pocked with neglected, once-beautiful properties (such as the one at right) and plagued by high levels of drug use and crime, Central City was an unlikely candidate for new tenants. But where others saw blight, Parkway Partners saw opportunity. By moving to Central City, their work hit closer to home, and their impact became more immediate. “We are in a neighborhood where our community gardens are active, and we are physically closer to our gardeners,” said executive director Paula Dickey.

Now in its 20th year as a private non-profit corporation dedicated to the restoration and maintenance of New Orleans’ parks, gardens, and green spaces, Parkway Partners spent its first 19 years operating from the grounds of the City Department of Parks and Parkways. Although it never received any funds from the local government, Parkway Partners struggled to establish an independent identity as long as it was housed on the City’s property.

According to Dickey, the effects were extremely detrimental: “Some potential funders did not want to support our program because they thought their money would be tossed into the City’s operating budget.” In the new headquarters, she says, “Morale is up, everyone is actively planning for the future, and we are part of a community. It is great being here!”

The relocation has not only remedied the organization’s image problems, but it also positioned it at the epicenter of the “renaissance” now underway in Central City. And it turns out that building a handsome and spacious new office space in a meticulously restored 19th-century Victorian house (at left – one that was rescued from the footprint of a big-box grocery store) was just the beginning.

Thanks to some savvy real estate maneuvers, Parkway Partners now holds a long-term lease on two lots across the street from its headquarters, for only one dollar per year. These lots are now the site for the organization’s Urban Tree Project (see photo at right), which has hundreds of trees in different growth stages being raised for inner-city neighborhoods that have lost their green canopy. Tree varieties include red maple, cypress, green ash, Chinese elm, and live oak. An extensive educational program is also a major part of the Project.

The headquarters also features the Louisiana Heritage Demonstration Garden and Greenhouse, currently under construction. The Greenhouse, funded in part by a Community Development Block Grant, will function as a working and teaching venue, providing the space and equipment needed to grow starter plants (vegetables and flowers) for over 150 existing community gardens, all developed and maintained with private funding. It will also start seeds and propagate native plants for The Louisiana Heritage Demonstration Garden.

Meanwhile, the Garden, funded by the Dorothy Dorsett and Joe W. Brown Foundation, will showcase plants native to New Orleans from the 1850’s through early 1900’s. It will also serve as a venue to educate the community at large about local plant materials, and make plants available to beautify Central City. The Greenhouse and Demonstration Garden will provide innovative educational opportunities for local residents and school children, showing them first-hand what can be grown successfully on an inner-city lot.

In addition to the programs it has initiated in Central City, Parkway Partners plays an active role in attracting new tenants and investment to the neighborhood. “We continue to contribute to this change by choosing as our tenants other non-profits, which bring in a lot of well-heeled movers and shakers, many of whom had never been in this neighborhood before,” said Dickey. “Now they talk about making an investment here themselves.”

The signs of change underway in Central City are everywhere. Within a one-block radius of Parkway Partners’ headquarters, six major renovations are underway, to the tune of $2.5 million. As the showpiece of the neighborhood, Parkway Partners has earned the credit for turning around this critical area, just one block from New Orleans’ Central Business District. They not only bucked the trend of abandonment in Central City — they reversed it.

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