Recently, a miles-long chain-link fence was erected around the wild northern portion of City Park, earmarked for development as golf course by a closed decision making process. There are many reasons why this golf course is a bad choice for the region: ecology, hydrology, financial sustainability, countervailing recreational trends - but I would like to highlight an underappreciated aspect of the choice: public access. Parks in contemporary urban life are the closest thing we have to a shared resource. Like ‘commons’ of yore, they provide an undefined space for collective activity that has no equal, held in trust by the public, for the public. And by ‘public’ I do not mean strictly homo sapiens, but all flora and fauna.
A massive fence has enclosed a benevolently neglected portion of the park, which has become an unexpected refuge since Katrina. The diversity of native and migratory species is incredible to behold. The ecosystem is restoring itself to health, supporting species seldom seen in an urban environment. The diversity of human activities inspired by this unbounded common is similarly difficult to catalog. Meandering adaptations of Oscar Wilde plays, campfire shows, treehouses, Equinox ceremonies, voodoo rites, art installations, wildlife walks with school children, kite flying, urban farming, casual dog walks, treasure hunts, a place for self-reflection, it’s all there for us.
The gifts of a natural disaster are few to count, but the wilding of City Park’s former golf courses are definitely one of them. Amid the wreckage of Katrina, City Park’s golf courses took extensive damage, but that damage has bestowed us with a natural refuge in the heart of the City that is now a collective treasure.
The recent enclosure of of this refuge was a shock to many. Park officials say it was all in the plans, and that we shouldn’t be surprised. Many of us didn’t know the value of this accidental treasure until access was abruptly revoked by a fence. People mobilized quickly, and the outcry at the City Park Board of Directors meeting last week was vociferous. The Board’s response was vacuous, and the provided no response to comments or concerns.
How can this collective refuge be treated so arbitrarily? There must be an exploration of alternatives. A golf course is a massive taking of public land for the benefit of the few. Once built, there will be no freedom of access: the land will be reserved for one exclusive use, for a selective cohort of well-heeled individuals. You want to evaluate the “highest and best use” for this land? Surely there are more valuable metrics than economics. Access is a universal metric, utilization for all, arrived at by an inclusive decision-making process, and supported through shared stewardship.
Frankly, the Board’s decision to proceed with a nostalgic golf course makes it difficult to see how the City Park leadership can have the best interests of New Orleanians in mind. Access trumps dollars. Golf is a losing proposition. We demand a response.
Justin Kray is a leader of City Park for Everyone.
Read the FEMA Environmental Assessment pdf here FEMA and CPIA claim that the new golf course is "essentially" built on the old golf course, but that it also includes 5.5 acres of Couturie Forest.
Read Scott Eustis's notes of objection to City Park's conversion of 5.5 wetland acres of Couturie Forest , including these trees, into Hole #5.