Since its formation in 2006, the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development has worked hard to advocate for a healthier, more sustainable Lower 9th Ward.
“We are in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, Louisiana,” declares Arthur Johnson, CEO of the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development. “This is on the Holy Cross side. The river is right on my right. I can see the tall ships from here. That’s how close we are to the river.
“This is home for us,” says Johnson. “This is where we do our work and help in the Lower 9th Ward community but also setting the pace for coastal restoration, wetland development, and energy efficiency.”
Those are big goals for a small organization, which was founded after Katrina in pursuit of three core missions: rehabilitating the coast, greening the built environment, and increasing food security.
Many of these goals are embodied in the barge board house Johnson leads me through. All around us, dozens of volunteers from Kansas City on spring break are busy working on the inside and outside of the property.
“This is the house that is made out of barge board,” Johnson says as he leads me through the house. “This is the wood that was coming from the barges that come down the Mississippi. This house is over 130 years old.”
The house will serve as a community center, a place for neighborhood associations and groups like the girl scouts to gather for workshops and meetings. It will be the kind of community space the Lower 9th Ward doesn’t have, outside of churches.
Johnson described the hard work – done mostly through volunteers — of gutting the former double, clearing it of debris, and giving it a new roof.
“We didn’t know it was a barge board house until we started peeling the drywall, and the wallpaper and the paint and found this gem underneath it all,” he says.
The way the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development has renovated the barge board house serves as a model of sustainability. They have ceiling fans and eco-friendly insulation from top to bottom — some of which you can see through panes of glass placed over intentionally-left openings in the walls. These are called Truth Windows.
“That’s an architectural term,” explains Johnson. “I’ve only learned how to use that term recently.”
Johnson leads me to the backyard. He points out raised gardening beds under construction, a rain garden at the back of the property, and a group of young trees sunning themselves.
“We’re going to have an orchard back there,” points Johnson. “You see the trees already in place. We’ll have oranges, lemons, limes and satsumas.”
All the produce grown here will be given away to community members. But even more importantly, this yard will demonstrate the possibilities for developing food security in the Lower 9th Ward. And it’ll provide the perfect space for workshops around nutrition and health.
In addition to all of this, Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development will finally have its own office.
I asked Johnson, “Are you excited to finally have a physical home?”
“We’re elated. This house truly wraps around everything we live for and were created about.”
From this office, Johnson says the Center will continue working on their many projects, such as constructing an environmental education center across from Bayou Bienvenue, improving pedestrian and bicycle safety across the St. Claude Avenue bridge, and making nearly 200 homes more energy efficient by installing radiant barriers in their attics.