By Ariella Cohen, The Lens staff writer

New Orleans was awarded a $2 million federal grant today to study revitalizing Claiborne Avenue, including possibilities for removing a portion of the elevated Interstate 10 expressway.

Winning the planning grant could be a first step toward restoring drab Claiborne Avenue back to an earlier incarnation as a central, oak-lined meridian of African-American culture, commerce and neighborhood life.

The city’s grant proposal, submitted in partnership with numerous community groups, is not restricted to the portion of Claiborne below the elevated expressway in Treme. Rather, it focuses on many portions of the roadway that connects Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes.  It includes the entire stretch between Napoleon and Elysian Fields avenues, as well as portions that run through Hollygrove and the Lower 9th Ward.

Before the 1960s, when city planners reworked the broad commercial avenue that knit Lafitte and Treme to the French Quarter, the Faubourg Marginy and the Seventh Ward, Claiborne was home to nearly 200 small businesses. Now there are no more than 50, said Jeff Schwartz, an urban planner and the executive director of Broad Community Connections, which works to bring economic development to Broad Street and the surrounding neighborhoods.

“This is an opportunity to stitch communities back together and unmake some of the mistakes of the last 40 or 50 years,” Schwartz said.

The grant is from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of its Sustainable Communities effort, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu applauded the grant, calling it a step towards “improving our quality of life.”

“This grant will guide strategic integrated investments in housing, transportation and land-use planning to realize the full potential in neighborhoods along the Claiborne Corridor,” Landrieu said.