Sustaining Our Urban Landscape (SOUL)

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The challenge:

New Orleans is sinking. In 1890, 100% of the city was above sea level. Today 50% of New Orleans is below sea level–up to 12 feet below in some areas–and is continue to subside (aka “sink”) more than 1.5 inches each year. Without an urban forest (the trees were stripped away by Hurricane Katrina), New Orleans’ ability to absorb stormwater and to slow subsidence are both severely compromised, leaving the city in extreme danger of flooding, even from relatively minor storms.

What can be done?

Trees slow down and absorb stormwater runoff. For example, the Bald Cypress can drink as much as 880 gallons of stormwater per day during a rain event. They also decrease subsidence (sinking) , lower air temperatures and electric bills, clean soil, water and air, improve neighborhood safety, and make the community more inviting for exercising and engaging with neighbors due to their beauty and shade. Green infrastructure can enable New Orleans to keep stormwater on site and out of the municipal drainage system. Most importantly, green infrastructure can help detain the “first flush,” the initial rainfall that catches the most pollution, like motor oil, before it enters our drainage system, ultimately draining to, and polluting Lake Pontchartrain.

How SOUL is meeting the challenge:

SOUL (Sustaining Our Urban Landscape) is driving a resilient and environmentally equitable New Orleans by reforesting our urban landscape. SOUL has four interwoven programs:

  • Community Forestry: Planting large, native trees one neighborhood at a time to reduce flooding, slow subsidence, lower ambient temperatures, and improve the community health of New Orleans.
  • Community Forestry Educational Series: Exploring the importance of urban trees and their impact on our environment with community partners, professionals, students.
  • Advocacy: Protecting and preserving trees on public and private property by championing a no-net-loss tree policy for New Orleans.
  • Volunteer Programs:  Providing volunteer groups from around the country with a memorable experience working in New Orleans’ urban forest.
See all of our alumni projects