Julie Goes to NOLA!

Julie Slavet
Jun 24, 2013

Wonder how other cities are dealing with their water challenges? Aging infrastructure, runoff, flooding? How about subsidence??

In early June, I had the opportunity to represent Philadelphia’s groundbreaking Green City Clean Waters work at an Urban Water: Strategies that Work series in New Orleans presented by the Greater New Orleans Foundation (GNOF) and Urban Institute. The purpose of the five workshop series is to jump-start a citywide conversation about water challenges and possible solutions, with experts from Milwaukee, Washington DC, and Portland sharing their experiences integrating green infrastructure into water policies.

The first workshop (Stormwater Challenges: Local and National Perspectives) was on May 15 and the last is on July 10 (Creating Local Change: Making a Commitment to Next Steps).


I served on the Metropolitan and Comprehensive Green Stormwater Strategies panel with very knowledgeable Michael Talbott, Director of the Harris County Flood Control District in Houston, Texas. Our remarks covered our organizational missions and resources, the challenges and solutions developed by our organizations and communities to solve these challenges, and lessons learned. We both discussed the critical issues of community involvement and maintenance in the success of green infrastructure.

I had a few Aha! take-away moments in New Orleans. Michael discussed how the Harris County Flood Control District views many of its flood control projects as serving two purposes: when needed,  storing flood water — when not needed, acting as nature reserves and parks for bikers and walkers. This is certainly an idea we should think about for TTF’s upstream communities.

It’s also incredibly exciting to realize how the rest of the country views Philadelphia’s groundbreaking stormwater initiative. We should be very proud of our city’s creative leadership.

I was also moved by the people I met. New Orleans is a very special American city, one that faces many of the same challenges as Philadelphia, and also one that has gone through a terrible disaster. Just like Philadelphia, the passion and commitment of the people that care is a force to be reckoned with.


I had only been to New Orleans once before, twenty eight years earlier, for my honeymoon. I won’t wait that long to go back again, only this time I’ll visit to enjoy as well as to see how the city has pursued green infrastructure.

The information on these workshops — agendas, power points, presentations – is available here.

And here’s what I learned about subsidence: New Orleans was originally very low in relation to sea level, but human interference has caused the city to sink even lower. When New Orleans was being constructed, they ran out of good land. To make more room, engineers drained swamplands around the area so they could continue expansion. This drainage led to subsidence. Subsidence is sinking or settling to a lower level, in this case, it was the earth’s surface sinking lower in relation to sea level. This sinking effect has led to present day New Orleans being, on average, six feet below sea level.  






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