Employing the East Lake Way in New Orleans

The Bayou District Foundation – and New Orleans – is 10 years removed from one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. Devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the district has undergone a rebirth thanks to the work of local business and community leaders. While the waters inflicted punishing physical damage on the community, it couldn’t break the will of the community. Spearheaded by Gerard W. Barousse Jr, who is now the chairman of the board of directors for BDF, the community began to climb its way out of the destruction.

In the weeks following the storm, Barousse and other local leaders visited the East Lake community and saw it as a blueprint for how to not only rebuild, but also how to deliver hope and opportunity to its residents. BDF was formed in 2006 with a mission of revitalizing part of New Orleans in the wake of the storm. Its success inspired the creation of Purpose Built Communities, which is now helping a total of 13 neighborhoods across the country emulate the model pioneered at East Lake.

“Hurricane Katrina ultimately turned what was substandard housing into absolutely unlivable housing, and that tragedy gave us a unique opportunity to rethink how we could serve the residents of the area,” said Barousse. “It was important to deliver high quality, mixed-income, affordable housing and a ‘cradle-to-college’ approach to education so we ensure that no one would be left behind and that all would have the same opportunity for success. What East Lake had accomplished offered a model for how to bring a community back from the brink, and we’ve sought to emulate it.”

The centerpiece of the district is the redevelopment of the former St. Bernard Public Housing Development, which was flooded with up to 10 feet of water in some places. Columbia Parc at the Bayou District opened on a 53-acre site in 2010 and offers affordable housing and “cradle to college” educational opportunities.

The foundation partnered with Columbia Residential to finish 685 unit of mixed-income housing, while also rebuilding 12 city streets and developing new amenities for residents like business centers, playgrounds, theaters and a community meeting space.

Providing an educational pathway to success, investments like Educare of New Orleans currently serve more than 160 students from six weeks to five years old. A K-8 charter school is in the planning phase, and BDF also is partnering with the Orleans Parish School District to provide a complete “cradle to college” approach through McDonogh 35 High School.

The Bayou District Foundation follows the model of success employed by East Lake right down to the (golf) tee. By embracing the game which has fueled East Lake’s revitalization, BDF hopes that golf can be a transformational avenue for its community through a partnership with City Park, which will not only bring a championship-caliber course back to New Orleans, but also a revenue stream to support the Foundation’s initiatives for the neighborhood.

Recognizing that golf can offer children the opportunity to learn life lessons like responsibility, respect and integrity, residents in the surrounding neighborhoods in the district will be encouraged to use the renovated City Park golf course to teach kids the game, while also offering dedicated programming to give economically disadvantaged kids special opportunities to play in the park.

“The way East Lake has used the game to not just financially support the revitalization in the community, but also teach children the life lessons that only the game can impart is something we felt was essential to our efforts,” said Barousse. “The improvements to City Park will not only benefit the community, but also be a draw for visitors to New Orleans who want to come play a remarkable golf course and be a part of our ongoing story.”

BDF even sought Rees Jones, the famed golf architect who breathed new life into East Lake Golf Club, to redesign the East and West Courses at City Park. Measuring 7,400 yards from the back tees, the reimagined course will preserve the live oaks and natural bayous that flow throughout the property and are such a recognizable feature of the New Orleans landscape. There’s also purpose beyond the inherent beauty as the lagoons and bayous may be pumped down in advance of approaching storms, enabling the course to assist in much-needed drainage for the area.

Promoting community wellness is crucial as well, with a federal qualified health clinic on site and plans to build a grocery store and drug store near the community garden and senior housing already in place.

The revitalization, though not complete, is already reaping ample benefits. Crime has plummeted in Columbia Parc, with only two reported attempted felonies in the development since February 2010. The development also received a “grand award” for affordable housing community from Builder Magazine, while all the residents of Columbia Parc are either employed, in school, in vocational training or retired.

These are just a few of the many successes that BDF already has celebrated, and, with a plan in place to offer opportunities and resources to its residents, it’s certain many more will be on the way.