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Global Green's Holy Cross Village A Model Of Living With Water, Rather Than Fighting It

Eve Abrams
Each of the five homes in Global Green's Sustainable Village has a rain garden in the front.

Linda Stone is the director of local office of Global Green USA. Jeff Supak works for Global Green on wetlands and water issues. The two give us a tour of the group's Holy Cross Project in the Lower 9th Ward dedicated to sustainable living in New Orleans.

“This is Global Green’s showcase sustainable village,” explains Stone. “We’re in the Holy Cross neighborhood, and we’re right next to the river, as you can see.”

In New Orleans, says Supak, “We pump all of our water out, because we live in a city that’s below sea level. So we always have to pump water out so we’re not flooding. And then there’s this effect that happens: we’re not really living with water, we’re pushing it out. On this site we wanted to showcase how you can live with water, and the importance of living with water and managing it on site.”

Credit Eve Abrams
Native species like irises are planted in rain gardens.

Stone stands on the back deck of one of the five homes built in Global Green’s Sustainable Village. “We should show you a couple of the rain features. This is a roof garden,” she points. “You put certain kinds of plants in that are really hardy because it can also be faced with sun without rain. So they have to be able to handle rain and a lot of sun.”

“The cool thing is this has co-benefits,” explains Supak. “So a green roof, not only are you capturing rain water, you’re also saving on your energy bills because it cools the roof. So when the sun hits it, the sun doesn’t penetrate the roof.”

“It’s reflected and insulates as well,” adds Stone. “So it reduces your energy bill and it reduces the urban heat island."

Credit Eve Abrams
Roof gardens help lessen the effects of the urban heat island.

“An urban heat island generally happens in urban areas because there’s a lot of cement and a lot of dark-colored roofs, a lot of streets,” explains Stone.  “So the overall temperature, the ambient air, can be five or ten degrees hotter than it is in the surrounding areas that are more greener and more rural. So by adding more trees, by lightening rooftops and adding things like this — like green roofs — that can help.”

Supak points down below. “So this is the bioswale. I like to call it a man-made wetland, because it looks like that  So basically this bioswale was dug out and then it was filled with different materials — porous materials like crushed concrete and other types of soil mixtures, including sand, because a lot of our soil here in New Orleans is clay, and water isn’t allowed to get down through clay because it’s not porous. So this is creating space for water to fill in to the ground. So here you have that, and then on top of that we have a lot of native species. We have cypress trees.”

Supak points to several young trees. “One, two, three, four, five. The ones that look like they’re putting on their leaves for spring."

He says we have a lot of organic content in our soil. "Whenever you take what should be a wet soil —being that we live in a swampy area — when you take that and don’t allow water to get into that soil, it’s like going from a wet sponge to a dry sponge. So you have a wet, full, plump sponge that’s holding up your city. But then, all of a sudden, you’re pumping that water out and you have a dry sponge. And imagine how a dry sponge shrinks and gets cracked, and that’s exactly what happens to our soil here. So our soil sinks. So streets start sinking and cracking and breaking under the pressure. And then your homes shift — your foundation shifts, and then we’re even more below sea level than what we started with."

Credit Eve Abrams
Driveways reduce the amount of concrete by using strips on which cars can park.

“If we manage water, what are the effects? Hopefully it will reduce how much pumping we do in the city.  So if we’re reducing our pumping it means we’re allowing more water into our soil, so we’re allowing us to sustain our city and not sink. Number two, all of this rain water is not just being flushed into Lake Pontchartain, which means we’re protecting the water quality of Lake Pontchartrain and the fisheries that we depend on. And then three, if we’re reducing pumping we’re reducing our carbon emissions. It takes a lot of energy to pump our water out.”

Eve Abrams first fell in love with stories listening to her grandmother tell them; it’s been an addiction ever since.