District A candidates debate park protections, greenspace sustainability

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Candidates for the District A seat on the New Orleans City Council — Joe Giarrusso III, Dan Ring, Tilman Hardy, Toyia Washington-Kendrick, Drew Ward and Aylin Maklansky — debate during a town hall hosted by Carrollton neighborhood groups on Thursday evening. (Sabree Hill, UptownMessenger.com)

City Council District A is home to a plethora of the city’s parks and greenspaces, and their management and sustainability remains an important issue as the city grows. All six District A candidates said they’d fight to keep greenspaces across the city, though they presented different preservation tactics.

Two candidates stressed the importance of zoning ordinances and the city’s Master Plan in protecting current greenspace, while others argued for legislation protecting trees and living plants. Some candidates said they’d look into unifying park management into one entity, if it proves efficient.

Tillman Hardy, CEO of CORE USA community development firm, said he’d prioritize protecting the city’s greenspace, particularly those used by children. Plenty of kids around District A do not have the resources to pay for recreation activities – such as soccer and football leagues – but parks provide a space for those activities free of charge, he said.

Hardy also recommended following Austin, Texas’ lead implementing legislation protecting the city’s trees and living plants. Keeping as much plant life as possible helps soak up storm water, unlike impermeable concrete.

“Right now, there’s too many living trees being brought down, and I don’t think people understand the part our trees play in drainage,” he said.

Toyia Washington-Kendrick, vice principal at Esperanza Charter School, said city officials should surveil new greenspaces around the city while sustaining current parks.

She also suggested looping in communities to determine what areas could be transformed into a greenspace, and how city officials can improve already-existent parks.

“We need to have communications about the different ares that we can use and keep as a green space,” she said.

About 80 people turned out to hear City Council District A candidates debate public safety, infrastructure and the S&WB (Sabree Hill/Uptown Messenger).

Locals who use the parks should be the biggest voice in what greenspaces are preserved, said Drew Ward, linguist. Ward referenced the ‘Save the Fly’ campaign, which successfully defeated a planned $4 million soccer complex that would have been built over a pie-shaped piece of The Fly visited by picnickers and family reunions.

Ward said the ‘Save the Fly’ campaign should not have been a two-year fight, especially since the public government oversees parks.

“We shouldn’t have had to fight,” Ward said.

Park protection stems from zoning and Master Plan amendments, said Aylin Maklansky, former legislative director for District C Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey. Sustaining and strengthening those ordinances is the best way for City Councilmembers to protect greenspaces, Maklansky said.

Park management is split into several boards and commissions – Audubon, City Park, NORDC – but Maklansky said she’s open to restructuring all parks under just one entity.

“The way that the boards and different parks have been structured … has provided quite a bit of funding for those parks where we may not see them as they were before,” she said.

Joe Giarusso, attorney, echoed that the Master Plan should be used to protect greenspace across the city. City officials should monitor what goes on public land, and how much is used for public activities, he said.

Giarusso said less bureaucracy involving parks is best, though there should be uniform rules for all parks, with specific ordinances for specific parks.

“You want neighborhood input in what’s going on in those parks as well,” Giarusso said.

Candidates were given one minute to answer each moderator question, and 30 seconds for audience questions (Sabree Hill/Uptown Messenger).

Enveloping park management into one board is a possiblity but only if it’s more efficient than the current system, said Dan Ring, Bayou St. John resident born and raised in Boston.

Ring argued the importance of sustaining smaller parks across the city, since many people don’t have access to Audubon or City Park. He also touched on the importance of greenspace for drainage control.

“Greenspaces lend a lot more than just recreational and social activity,” Ring said.

About 80 people came out Thursday evening to hear all six District A candidates talk infrastructure, public safety and the ongoing Sewerage & Water Board fiasco. The town hall was hosted by Carrollton neighborhood groups.

All six District B candidates are slated to participate in a District B forum, this time hosted by a collaboration of Greater Mid-City organizations. That forum is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 28 form 6- 8 p.m. at Tulane Tower, 2601 Tulane Ave.

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