Lafitte Greenway Sustainable Water Design

New Orleans, Louisiana

Initiated by the Friends of the Lafitte Corridor and made possible by a Greater New Orleans Foundation Environmental Fund grant, Waggonner & Ball developed strategies for sustainable water design within the Lafitte Greenway redevelopment. The study was divided into three sections: historical research, data collection and analysis, and the development of illustrative water design potentials for the Lafitte Greenway.  

The Lafitte Greenway is a linear open space that connects historic neighborhoods in the heart of New Orleans. The proposed 3.1 mile long, bicycle and pedestrian parkway begins at Armstrong Park at the French Quarter, runs through the Tremé, Faubourg St. John, Mid-City and Lower Mid-City neighborhoods and ends at Canal Boulevard. The Bayou St. John, which intersects the corridor at Jefferson Davis Parkway, is the historical entry to New Orleans from Lake Pontchartrain and was connected to the French Quarter via the Carondelet Canal. Now filled and ignored, the former navigation canal and an abandoned railway remain as a public right-of-way. The Lafitte Greenway traces the pathway of a historic maritime and rail transportation corridor.  With its connection to one of the city’s few open waterways and its prominent role in the city’s drainage system, this greenway corridor can provide the community unique urban amenities with ecological, economic, and social value and benefits.

New Orleans’ existing drainage network is overburdened. Frequent street flooding occurs during severe rain events in significant part because the closed, subsurface drainage network has little capacity for water storage. Increasing pumping capacity or conduit size has been, and remains, the typical approach to improve the current system. As a consequence of constant pumping, groundwater is removed from the porous, organic soils. Subsidence results through oxidation processes, with significant consequences to subsurface and surface infrastructure. Additionally, storm water runoff is not mitigated and pollution is flushed directly into Lake Pontchartrain. As a result, traditional infrastructural approaches to address these problems require constant maintenance and therefore have become economically and ecologically unsustainable.

Facing similar pressures, the Dutch have developed fundamentally different approaches to water management. They recognize that it is more cost effective and feasible to employ diverse, small scale strategies rather than relying solely on large scale infrastructure projects for water management. Their strategies demonstrate that water sensitive urban design begins with an understanding of subsurface soil and water conditions, followed by adjustments to infrastructure, land uses and spatial planning. Available water - surface water, groundwater, storm water, drinking water and wastewater - is used intensively as a resource. Consequently, urban vulnerability to flooding, drought, extreme heat and land subsidence is reduced through intelligent, water-wise design, efficient operation and effective management.

Influenced by this Dutch approach to water sensitive design, Waggonner & Ball Architects developed recommendations for surface water, storm water and groundwater interventions for the Lafitte Greenway that utilize the following sustainable water design principles: alleviate load on pumping system, reduce street flooding, and increase safety by providing space for water storage and retention; minimize subsidence with balanced groundwater; improve water quality by mitigating runoff; promote resilience to climate change, including flood, drought and heat; reconnect neighborhoods and individuals to healthy water network, providing urban amenities and value.

Based upon these principles and addressing unique conditions along the length of the Lafitte Greenway, we developed three distinct areas of hydrological identity: fresh water, brackish water, and a filtration zone. Community engagement and participation during the future master planning efforts will determine the extent and formal arrangement of these water identities within the Lafitte Greenway.

Projects like the Lafitte Greenway that managing storm water, balance groundwater, and reintroduce and celebrate surface water will result in a more valuable, vibrant, and ecologically resilient city.

Watch David Waggonner discuss the Lafitte Greenway water planning project with US Senator Mary Landrieu and Jeff Hebert, director of the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, in Beyond the High Line: Transforming New Orleans, on October 15th, 2012.



2011, Honor Award, AIA New Orleans
2011, Merit Award, AIA Louisiana

Related Publications

“Don’t Fight Nature”, Architect Magazine, the official publication of the AIA, 2011   What's Next: Don't Fight Nature   
Lafitte Greenway Sustainable Water Design, Waggonner & Ball Architects, 2010   Lafitte Greenway Sustainable Water Design   
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Existing & proposed section through the Lafitte Greenway
Water identities change over the course of the Greenway based on surrounding conditions
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Westerpark in Amsterdam
Westersingel in Rotterdam
Future Bayou could circulate water to the French Quarter