Learning Lessons in Tremé

By Kevin Olp

Tremé is the birthplace of Jazz. It is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city of New Orleans and remains an important center of the city’s African-American and Créole culture, especially the modern brass band tradition.

As I found on my recent tour of the area, it is also a community which was negatively impacted by several urban revitalization projects in the 1960s and ’70s. One such project was the Claiborne Expressway, which sliced through the center of Tremé, replacing an oak-lined median with parking lots and concrete. Instead of leading to economic revitalization, the expressway was an eyesore and contributed to a rapid population exodus and became a major source for pollution.

Members of the Coalition and public officials tour downtown Tremé

The purpose of our trip was to visit Tremé and meet with members of the Claiborne Corridor Improvement Coalition, businesses, local government officials and concerned citizens to find out about the efforts that these groups are taking to redesign their community. I learned a lot from this trip, especially how vitally important it is for federal officials to meet with local stakeholders face-to-face to begin to understand the difficulties that exist in neighborhoods. I also learned from meeting with knowledgeable and passionate leaders in Tremé  about how various groups in the community envision addressing these issues.

Members of the Coalition described their vision of future development in Tremé as centered around building a community of social and economic opportunity—with access to jobs, quality schools, affordable housing, recreation, and healthy foods. They also emphasized the need to make the neighborhood a more environmentally resilient community that can resist flooding and hurricane damage. However, during the meeting I heard about other past development projects, which were implemented in Tremé without having a public dialogue and consulting the community. It was apparent that these local leaders were skeptical that future development would incorporate the voices and concerns of the people in the community.

This is why the meeting we had was so important. Bringing together local public officials and local leaders helped reestablish the bonds of trust and feelings of mutual respect. This is one of many meetings that will need to happen regularly in the future to reshape relationships among various stakeholders and public officials to ensure development is equitable and in line with community needs. As collaboration and communication are strengthened from these meetings, the  hard work of local stakeholders and public officials will hopefully start to lay the foundation to recapture the historic magnificence and economic vitality that Tremé once had.

About the author: Kevin Olp is a SCEP Program Analyst for EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ). He works in OEJ on public relations as well as community and stakeholder involvement.