City Councilmember Kristin Palmer on smart growth and resilience in New Orleans, LA

Kristin Palmer had long been interested in smart growth strategies, but smart growth really became a focal point of her first term on City Council in 2010, as New Orleans still struggled to rebuild five years after Hurricane Katrina.

“When you’re trying to rebuild from nothing, from ground zero, what are the things that make sense when you come back and rebuild? Access to public transportation and economic corridors was really part of that success,” says Palmer. “If you had access to grocery stores and you had a walkable community, and you could get to the resources you needed, those are the communities that rebuilt faster and better.”

Palmer is an Advisory Board member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council and since being elected to the City Council in 2010 she has worked to make New Orleans more resilient now and for the future. She sees smart growth strategies as a way to reduce housing and transportation costs for residents, and as a way to attract more people to move to (or back to) the city.

One of those strategies is the city’s Complete Streets policy, the first in Louisiana, which Palmer authored and was instrumental in getting passed. Since the policy was adopted, New Orleans has significantly improved its bicycle infrastructure and is now ranked tenth nationally in the percentage of people who bike to work each day.

Palmer and the rest of the City Council are also working on the city’s updated Master Plan, which aligns land use with smarter growth. The New Orleans City Council, unlike that of many other cities, has final say over many zoning and land use matters. The new plan will encourage mixed-use development near transit nodes, infill development and pedestrian-friendly streetscape enhancements. Palmer sees rezoning as a way to promote residential and commercial development in the neighborhoods that need it most, but have been inhibited by previous regulation. “Now, everybody knows what the playing field is,” she says.

In Palmer’s home district, District C, it’s now easier to walk and there’s more to walk to, thanks in part to her work. Tremé Park and a number of new small businesses, including the Frenchmen Street Outdoor Art Market have all been helped by zoning ordinances Palmer championed. Though overcoming barriers to smart growth can be difficult, she says, “the end result is always better.”

Local Leaders Council