Land Use

Does anybody really want ‘parkettes’ along the St. Claude corridor?

A San Francisco parkette (a.k.a. “parklet”) appears to have devolved to largely commercial use by adjacent shopkeepers. photo: Mark Hogan/creative commons

Editor’s note, Aug. 10: The Lens has retracted and apologized for the story that appears below. A key component of this opinion piece is that Civic Center co-founder Candy Chang is driving a process to create “parkettes” along St. Claude Avenue. That is not true. Civic Center is involved in a separate effort along St. Claude that is financed by the same cooperative grant. The purpose of keeping this story online with this note is to assure that future Web searches or uses of the already-public URL will not present the original story without disclaimer.


This summer, the St. Claude Main Street organization, in collaboration with local design company Civic Center, was awarded a $275,000 grant from ArtPlace, a non-profit that funds arts and urban design projects. At a meeting held in June, the St. Claude organization invited local artists along the artery to “help shape the grant.” Civic Center’s co-founder, Candy Chang, was notable by her absence from the meeting.

That may have been a savvy political move on her part, as a large portion of the $275,000 grant is for Chang’s latest pet project, “parkettes,” mini parks that she hopes to string along St. Claude Avenue. A more honest assessment of community sentiment and values would reveal little support for Chang’s vision.

Parkettes are an idea born of the need for green space in dense urban areas, such as those that lack a broad, grassy neutral ground, like the one that runs down the middle of St. Claude Avenue. They are often built on top of parking spots and are meant to enhance public spaces and encourage walkability. St. Claude is an arts destination and portions of the grant, the audience was told, are to support the local arts community. However, St. Claude Main Street and Candy Chang’s effort to dress up the parkettes program as an idea that has somehow bubbled up from the surrounding community is disingenuous.

Cities are a hot topic these days, and arts-centered planning is all the rage. This trend owes heavily to urban studies theorist Richard Florida and his faith that building a “creative economy” attractive to “the creative class” is the road to urban revitalization. These “creatives,” Florida posits, drive a broader economic resurgence, and not surprisingly, many city boosters and developers are clamoring for expert assessments on how to lure and retain them.

Chang, whose Civic Center has spawned the web start-up Neighborland, is very much a part of the movement. Locally she’s probably best known for her Marigny installation, “Before I Die,” a public art piece propelled by the idea of creative “place making.” Stemming from Florida’s theories, creative place making has been touted as a kind of branding tool to transform urban areas into art destinations. Chang has done quite well capitalizing on this trend, touring and selling “Before I Die” toolkits and merchandise in cities around the world. Likewise, her “I wish This Was” project, through which she encouraged people around New Orleans to put stickers on existing structures proclaiming what they wished was there instead, took this kind of participatory urban planning a step further. Neighborland can be seen as an online analogue to the stickers. Now, with the St. Claude Avenue parkette program, Chang is making the leap from sticker dreams and cyberspace to the Marigny/Bywater/St. Claude area’s principal thoroughfare.

At the community meeting with artists, St. Claude Main Street board members pointed to the proliferation of parkettes in San Francisco as a model worthy of emulation. It seemed possible that glib reference to San Francisco was made without a clear understanding of that city’s rules for determining the feasibility of parkette placement:

– Sizeable area of under-utilized roadway

– Lack of public space in the surrounding neighborhood

– Pre-existing community support for public space at the location

Are parkettes sensible for a state highway such as St. Claude Avenue? Regarding pre-existing community support, one local architectural historian, commenting anonymously so as not to complicate workplace relationships, observed: “It’s interesting that Candy Chang has produced multiple venues for people to voice their wants and needs for their neighborhoods and yet chooses to ignore what she herself has manufactured. Neighborland and the ‘I Wish This Was’ installations have been described as tools to be used ‘so the future of our communities better reflects our desires today.’ But is there any desire for parkettes in our neighborhoods? A search of Neighborland came up with zero matches for parkettes. If the website is the supposed voice of the people, then haven’t we already spoken?”

Other critics have questioned whether parkettes are truly public or will long remain so. They are intended to be maintained by municipal park services, in partnership with departments of streets and public works. But as already overstretched budgets shrink further, cities have tended to hand them over to private businesses, such as restaurants and cafes that want outdoor seating. Thus does commerce colonize what was intended to be public space, a recurrent theme reflected in many of Civic Center’s ventures.

Commercial development, of course, is not inherently evil. Neither is improvement of streetscapes. But there’s something unseemly about the whole business of fabricating an aura of community support for a public project that in time diminishes public space. The City of San Francisco estimates parkette construction costs range from $12,000 to $20,000 per park. Neighborland’s Alan Joseph Williams, a St. Claude Main Street board member, said that with the ArtPlace grant the group hopes to build four to six parkettes. That could eat up more than a third of the grant budget — not including Chang’s consulting fee.

Asked at the meeting why St. Claude Main Street partnered with Civic Center, manager Michael Martin said it was because someone at Civic Center knew the people at ArtPlace. That would be Chang, who has an established relationship with ArtPlace director Carol Coletta. Coletta is the former president of CEO’s for Cities, a global urban think tank, and a prominent adherent of Florida’s creative economy theories. She’s big on arts-centric place making, as a recent tweet makes clear. “Artists are leading the way in real estate, not developers,” she wrote.

A more nuanced and place-sensitive approach to this kind of development has long since been advocated by the Project for Public Spaces, founded in 1975 and responsible for over 2,500 urban enhancements worldwide. It has set the standards for what place making is — and for what it is not. Above all, the Project for Public Spaces stresses that place making is not a one-size-fits-all concept; it does not impose a top-down decision-making structure, and it is not design-driven.

ArtPlace is funding the construction of parkettes in cities big and small, from New York, San Francisco, and Philadelphia, to San Jose, Memphis, and Nashville. Does St. Claude Avenue need four to six parkettes just because other cities have them?  And if place making is not design-driven, why is designer Chang written into the grant? If participation is not top-down, why has St. Claude Main Street and Civic Center decided to foist upon the New Orleans landscape the same idea being promoted everywhere else?

The late Jane Jacobs, eternal foe of cookie-cutter approaches to “urban renewal,” spoke with informed passion about what she had diagnosed as the essence of any city’s vitality: public human activity. Today, planners, designers, and architects have chosen piecemeal aspects of Jacobs’ work that potentially embrace those ideals. But Jacobs was against “design cults,” which she lamented overlooked the obvious in city building — specifically, the people.

As St. Claude Main Street and Candy Chang embark on their pre-formed plans for the Marigny, Bywater and St. Claude neighborhoods, it might be a sound idea if they got to know their neighborhoods a little better before telling the people what they want.


Christine P. Horn is a Marigny resident. 

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  • jinx

    Ms. Horn,

    Do you know if St. Claude Main St. or Civic Center has received approval from the city to install the parkettes? I assume it would be required. Just wondering if this deal is done or if there is still an opportunity for residents to make our opinions known to our elected officials. Thanks.

  • Christine,

    The last time you and I talked about the St. Claude Main Street project, over coffee at Who Dat a couple weeks ago, we ended up rambling about Cypress trees. They’re native, they’re shady, their roots don’t destroy sidewalks as relentlessly as oak trees. St. Claude is blistering mid-day in the summer, and we we’re both pretty stoked about the idea of getting some of those thick shade trees on the street.

    Point is, we’ve talked extensively about this project–over coffee, outside the Homespace Gallery, over e-mail etc. We’ve talked about how community engagement is really the ultimate purpose this part of the grant–to build relationships between neighbors, not parkettes.

    “Parkettes” in fact, is just a stand-in word. Nothing has been decided to to-date. In the coming weeks and months, St Claude Main Street and Civic Center are going to begin a civic engagement campaign to determine what kind of physical improvements we can make with this grant(given budget, time, etc.) that might tangibly make St. Claude more hospitable for residents, students, workers and customers. Our goal with this campaign is to find out what the neighborhood wants.

    We’re hoping that even a handful of small improvements to the streetscape will be enough to garner wide interest in participating. This conversation will inform what actually gets built, what function they ultimately serve, and how they are well maintained to the benefit of people who live nearby.

    The challenge we are trying to rise to, specifically, is coalition building. We are trying to do something that brings together the historic institutions of St. Claude Avenue with it’s businesses old and new, with the schools that call St. Claude home, and with the residents on both sides of the avenue, from the canal to the river. We’ve got a long, long way to go towards meeting that challenge. We need all the help we can get.

    However, given I’ve had multiple conversations with you about this – you should already know all it. Which is why I find this op-ed really startling. Since you felt compelled to write – I can only infer that you must not have trusted me while I was talking to you, sipping coffee, rubbing the belly of that dog you were pet-sitting. As a result, you’ve just penned a lot of misinformation and some really personal accusations.

    We’re neighbors though, and that means we share the same space, interests and concerns. We have every reason to work together towards common goals. Let’s get another coffee sometime soon and try again to connect.

    @Jinx, we hope you’ll get involved in the conversation when we kick it off. In the meantime, you can contact the me to answer any questions and address any concerns.
    Alan Williams
    Board Member, St Claude Main Street
    Dauphine & Touro

  • Jules B.

    “Our goal with this campaign is to find out what the neighborhood wants.”

    What if “what the neighborhood wants” is for you and St. Claude Main St. to go away? What if we feel you and your ilk are NOT solutions to our community’s problems, but rather symptoms of its crises?

    (Please note that “go away” used here and in print remains a stand-in phrase pending the results of my grant-funded Pinterest survey to engage the community in determining exactly where other residents of the 7-9th Wards actually want you to go.)

  • Jules B.

    I hope you’ll get involved in the conversation (about what future we have determined for you) when we kick it off.

  • Peter H.

    Mr. Williams-

    I am in no way a well informed expert on these subjects, but simply a resident neighbor of the St. Claude Arts District…. So reading you comment, I looked up the grant, and your Interview article about this grant on the ArtPlace website. There the use of the term “parkette” was not a stand in word the way I read it. The first three components of the grant are indeed to Foster the St. Claude arts community through civic engagement. The fourth part is “to build parkettes”, using a process to build resident buy-in and to inform parkette design and use My take away from the article above seems to follow what I read in that interview- that the community involvement in deciding on whether to build parkettes was not really done, and yet there are plans to build them with ghis grant money…. Or am I missing something here? Is the grant application online somewhere?

  • bywater_nola

    I’m confused. Candy Changs own website states that she WILL be collaborating with Civic Center and St Claude Main Street on the Art Place grant.

    and the Art Place website clearly states that the grant will be used for, among other things, the building of parklettes.

    Why is Candy Chang distancing herself from the project now?

  • Kevin

    I used to live right there, before the storm, and it never occurred to me we didn’t have a “community.” We knew our neighbors and they knew us; it was an extremely disparate (or “diverse,” if you prefer) group of people who looked out for one another. From that came “community.” It was a byproduct of the way we lived our lives, not something that needed to be studied or funded with a grant.

    I’m not sure when “community” (and “self-esteem,” for that matter) became a goal unto itself instead of the natural consequence of living life wisely and kindly. Nor am I sure why someone would want to construct a make-believe park on a busy street with cars whizzing past when MIckey Markey, Washington Square, the levee, and other green spaces already exist.

    All I know is that a lot of people are obsessed with “building community.” Is it really that absent from your lives?

  • Dale S.

    Following on from what Peter H. has commented, if the parkettes are formally written into the grant awarded by Artplace, do you not have to build them — whether the “community” wants them or not? I attended the informational meeting about this project and the answers to audience questions were extremely nonspecific. The impression we came away with was that St. Claude Main Streets consists of a group of people who stand to gain much from exploiting the growing scene on St. Claude — an attorney, a real estate agent from Uptown, and numerous recent urban planning graduates who are creating jobs for themselves. It was stated at the meeting that Civic Center (yes, Candy Chang and her partner) would be doing all of the graphic design AND web design for the project, as well as an “unnamed project” of her own. So the disclaimer by the Lens that she’s not involved smacks of cover-up. I hope the Lens and its new investigative journalist continue to dig deeper, including “Following the money.”

  • 3stepstoop

    It’s unfornate that The Lens felt the need to retract this piece, rather than simply note the necessary clarifications regarding Ms. Chang’s involvement. In my view, the confusion was brought on in large part by Civic Center and St. Claude Main Street themselves via their own PR and press announcements and what they presented at their meeting. In addition, Artplace contributed to this misunderstanding by promoting Ms. Chang as an integral partner in their announcement of the grant (, which reads, in full, as follows:

    “To encourage commercial and cultural revitalization along a pivotal corridor in New Orleans, St. Claude Main Street, Inc.’s Arts District & Parkette Program will unify and support the corridor’s creative endeavors and promote its activities through innovative marketing, visual identify and community engagement programs developed in partnership with internationally-renowned artist and designer Candy Chang.”

    Further, there seems to be so much overlap and cross-pollination between the parties involved that after attending the meeting and looking up information on them, I had reached similar conclusions myself.

    The arguments against the Parkette program still seem valid regardless of which entity is the principal behind it. Similarly, the critique of Ms. Chang’s methodology strikes a chord despite her distancing herself from this specific aspect of the grant. Her homogenous, branded approach to public art has her constantly touring the world as a paid speaker, all the while riding the waves of sentiment for her “New Orleans community”.

    @Mr. Williams–

    There is little of substance in your response that actually refutes Ms. Horn’s arguments. As others have noted, it is hard to swallow your claim that Parkettes are a “stand-in” when they are so specifically written into the title and content of the grant. You do not address or clarify Ms. Chang’s role in the project whatsoever, nor do you provide any insight into how much of the money has already been allocated and for what purposes.

    I was at the meeting as well, and it was hardly an excercise in “coalition building”. In fact, several of SCMS’s board members were openly dismissive towards audience members’ concerns and suggestions. The whole thing had an air of “we have to have these meetings because it’s a requirement of the grant, but we already have a pretty good idea of what we want to do”, despite your attemps to spin it otherwise.

    Your last statement in response to Ms. Horn belies the underlying attitude that is so chafing about all this:

    “We’re neighbors though, and that means we share the same space, interests and concerns. We have every reason to work together towards common goals.”

    That is a jaw-droppingly gross assumption to make, that simply by living in the same neighborhood you share the same interests and concerns. Clearly this is not the case, and anyone truly interested in “community engagement” would recognize that, and not view this simply as a problem of winning people over by reframing your position to make it seem more pallatable. That approach falls within the realm of politics, not community.

    Finally, your response to Jinx is similarly offensive. The conversation has already begun, you can claim no ownership of it, and Jinx has obviously already become involved without need of your invitation.

  • Jules B.

    Basically Dale S., the deal is that the Lens goes in guns blazing when a black New Orleanian scams a few grand from FEMA, but when some bright “creative class” types from out of town get over a quarter of a million bucks under fabricated pretenses, to make changes nobody who lives here wants to real estate these people don’t even own, the Lens has to be VERY circumspect in their reporting and unpublish/amend/disclaim/backpedal.

  • MasterJ

    @ Kevin and Jules B. Bravo!!
    Could not have said it better myself……

  • matt

    hmm. despite the retraction, the plan sounds funny. one of the things i enjoy *most* about new orleans is the active community engagement, contrasting other cities.

    the crux here seems to be the issue of spending money on the ridiculously named “parkettes”, which ive never heard anyone who lives here to actually claim to want. we have a lot of greenspace already. perhaps they are a better fit for very dense cities like NYC and SF?

    but lighting and trash are definitely bigger sticking points. from crime to graffiti to pedestrian traffic, it’s all about the lighting. much of St. Claude feels dark & dangerous.

  • Michael Mizell-Nelson

    The overreaction of The Lens is disturbing, especially given the comments of neighborhood residents and the web-links supporting Ms. Horn’s opinion piece. Maybe a correction instead of a retraction would have been more appropriate.

    At last year’s Rising Tide, the Neighborland presentation was horrid. It seems as if their main objective is to develop a commercial app that might be sold to Facebook. Like Farmville? You’ll love Neighborville.

  • I thought the Neighborland presentation at last year’s Rising Tide was anything but horrid, and the online tool is hardly like Farmville or whatever.

    Having never been an Neighborland account holder until this whole issue has blown up, I went over the other night and started one. Having done so, I just can’t see where all the Neighborland hate comes from.

    Anyone can sign up and connect with community members based on ideas instead of social networks. The top ideas on the New Orleans Neighborland the other day were about glass recycling and food trucks. And while I’m not all-in with the “Trader Joe’s in Mid City” idea, it isn’t like I’d man the ramparts against such a thing in the neighborhood in which I live.

    All in all, it seems pretty basic and benign to me.

  • mia

    I suppose the parkettes would try to de-highway St Claude Ave. That’d be OK. But not sure it’d work. Mac trucks zoom down St Claude. Right on the street could feel unpleasant. However, it would be nice if St Claude became a little more cozy.

  • Tony M

    Thank you miss Horn for such an insightful piece on the direction our beloved old “new” bywater and old “new” marigny are headed. I’ll certaintly need myself a grant to afford these “new” rents!

  • bywater_nola

    Just noticed that the page on Candy Chang’s website that I linked to has been edited since my comment. What is going on?

  • I regret the confusion caused by Ms. Horn’s article. It could have easily been avoided if she — or The Lens — contacted me or my Civic Center colleagues with any questions about our role. To be clear: Parkettes are not my idea or initiative, let alone a “pet project” of mine. They are an initiative of St. Claude Main Street, the organization that received the grant from ArtPlace.

    My company, Civic Center, is a design studio in the Bywater that has been hired by St. Claude Main Street to assist in developing a series of educational programs and print/digital materials in collaboration with the schools and galleries around St. Claude. I am not receiving a “consulting fee”. $30,000 of the grant proposal was allocated to Civic Center for design, production, materials, curriculum development, and management of this work. We will be lucky to break even. We chose to get involved in this project because we wanted to help support our community. My partner, James A. Reeves, has experience in developing art education programs and will be leading much of this effort. You’re welcome to contact him with any questions, concerns, or suggestions at We’d be happy to hear your thoughts as we get started on the development of this project next month.

    Regarding the “parkettes,” I believe St Claude Main Street’s intentions are good: to support physical improvements for St Claude Avenue that will be determined by the community, whether that may be trees, better lighting, benches, bike racks, etc. You can contact them to learn more.

    The Before I Die toolkits were created due to demand, and they are sold at-cost plus $10. All files can also be downloaded for free if people would like to make their own stencils. Many of my projects, including Before I Die, are not self-sustaining. I give talks at conferences to fund my projects.

  • harvey stern

    What would Jane jacobs think of the hideous poodles implanted on concrete blocks around the city. Who approved thse monstrosities. Art for Art’s sake just doesn’t cut–context is everything, and these mutts don’t fit in!!!

  • Rex St. Charles

    Jules B. Sir, thou dost rock! I only wish I had stated as you so eloquently did: “What if “what the neighborhood wants” is for you and St. Claude Main St. to go away? What if we feel you and your ilk are NOT solutions to our community’s problems, but rather symptoms of its crises?”
    Ms. Chang, Sean Cummings, and other monied culture vultures are most certainly the problem cloaked as the solution. Godspeed Sir.

  • Hal

    St. Claude Avenue is perfect as it is. Nobody change a thing.

  • As someone who runs a local nonprofit, this is a fascinating and instructive discussion of project management and consequences, intended and otherwise, adverse and otherwise.

    However, it muddies some otherwise legitimate critiques (the affordable housing issue Skip brings up is incredibly important) when nefarious motives are assigned to people because they haven’t lived here “long enough” to earn the right to invest their ideas and their energy into their neighborhoods. There is a reason that the kindergarten parents are the most active volunteers in any school. No burnout and fatigue in that group!

    People come to New Orleans, people fall in love with New Orleans, people stay in New Orleans, and people feel compelled to contribute to it creatively and civically. This has been the history of New Orleans since its inception. With careful, inclusive planning, this project will avoid unintended, adverse consequences while improving the quality of life for all residents in the area surrounding St. Claude.

  • marignyite

    @Dana: well said. Thank you.

    I moved here 2 years ago and am far more invested here than I was in my previous hometown and I can tell you, I was very invested there too. The difference is, at 40 years old, I made a choice to settle down here. The sense of community in New Orleans is infectious. I don’t think I knew all of my neighbors names back home, but I do know almost all the folks on my street and surrounding blocks, the name of several of the employees at the Food Co-op, the local coffee shops, Cake Cafe, local bartenders, Walgreens employees, and almost all the dogs names in my neighborhood. New Orleans innate friendly nature and sense of community are what spawn civic involvement and community discourse.

    With that being said, calling new folks carpetbaggers, telling them to go back from wherever they are from, and intentionally creating a climate of distrust due to conspiracy theories and gossip aren’t helping anyone. I realize there is a history of corruptness and greed layered within almost all facets of politics here, but, just because it’s the way it’s always been doesn’t make it necessarily the status quo.

    In the meantime, if you have any questions for any of the folks involved in this “scandal”, might I suggest you contact those folks directly?

    The Civic Center lists contact information here:
    Neighborland lists team members and contact information here:
    St. Claude Main Street lists their board and staff here:

    p.s. GO SAINTS!

    p.s.s. there’s only 155 days 3 hours and 42 minutes until Krewe du Vieux!

  • Lifelong Resident

    Excellent article, and can honestly say that I agree 100%!!!! And LOL Jules! Totally. Let’s get the conversation going…where should the Neiborhoodies be exiled to? Such arrogance, and Alan Williams is a joke.

  • Lifelong Resident

    Even mo betta: “Before I die, I hope I see Candy Chang and all of her uppity pseudo artist buddies run out of town so we can finally get back to normal without this circus!” Mardi Gras is over! Go home carpetbagger hose bag!

  • S Neggins

    The best American artists always seem to be creating more than homogeny. I am very happy to reside in a in this oddity of resistance, New Orleans.

  • Nola Lola

    I read what Ms. Chang had to say: In essence, she’s not involved, but $30k of the grant will be used to hire Chang’s business. She’s not in the grant, but she’s in the grant. Us old people call that “double-talk.”