Katrina was a call to action. In January 2006, Hilairie Schackai was preparing to enter graduate school to study community development and landscape restoration, but after witnessing the havoc wrecked by the hurricane, she knew that her real lessons in placemaking would come from on-the-ground combat in her hometown New Orleans, a city that would take at least a generation to heal.
With her background in horticulture and sustainable agriculture, Hilairie decided she would work on the garden restoration crew at Longue Vue House and Gardens, a historic cultural institution in New Orleans. In 2007, she was able to put her passion for creating community connections to work. Longue Vue extended its revitalization efforts to Pontchartrain Park—the first neighborhood built for African American homeowners to feature extensive green spaces and public amenities—which had suffered complete devastation from Katrina.
By establishing a formal collaboration between Longue Vue and the neighborhood, Hilairie has been able to work in a professional capacity to organize and engage the community around landscape rebuilding projects designed to work in concert with nature rather than impeding its forces. Projects she has managed have ranged from neighborhood-wide tree plantings and schoolyard garden installations to the redesign of a grand boulevard.
A large-scale project currently in progress is an ambitious flood mitigation plan to address stormwater drainage at the Dwyer Canal in Pontchartrain Park. The first round of preliminary designs is complete. Yet this daunting project is still in development and will take at least two years to commence. Hilairie will use her TogetherGreen fellowship to create an interim rainwater catchment solution to manage storm runoff, alleviate local flooding, and ultimately serve as a conservation exercise in reconnecting New Orleans residents to a healthier watershed. This human-scale, low-cost, low-tech, but highly effective and measurable solution will be detailed in a handbook and online for replication and adaptation wherever needed.
Hilairie is looking forward to using the new network and experiences provided to her by the fellowship to continue her conversation about water conservation, community building and connection to place with people throughout the country.