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Bus Shelter Unites, Connects New Orleans Neighborhood

Bus shelters are structures meant to protect folks from harsh weather and provide a place to rest for the weary. But could the construction of a bus shelter galvanize a neighborhood into action, uniting neighbors to change their way of life and highlight government policies that create obstacles for recovery?  This is no ordinary bus shelter.

Hand-crafted of wood and steel poles, and topped with a green awning, the bus shelter comes to life with inscriptions of Hollygrove streets like Olive, Edinburgh, and Leonidas, and maps to help residents and visitors navigate the neighborhood.  The idea to build a community designed shelter was conceived by the Hollygrove Livable Communities Project hosted by AARP Louisiana.

The Hollygrove Livable Communities Project partnered with Design Corps, a national nonprofit that works with communities to help create positive change, by providing architecture and planning services. Fifteen  design graduates self-financed their eight-week stay in New Orleans to work with Hollygrove on designing and building a bus shelter.

“We collaborated with Hollygrove residents and key community organizations like Trinity Christian Community to develop and rebuild an elder-friendly neighborhood after Hurricane Katrina.  We knew that in order to be successful we had to cultivate relationships, trust and resident leadership,” said Nancy McPherson, AARP Louisiana State Director.  “The old bus shelter was falling apart and this became a major livability issue for the neighborhood to reconnect with its surroundings post Katrina.”  

The bus shelter quickly became a symbol of the neighborhood’s transformation and the hard work that lay ahead.  The 2-month design build process of the bus shelter united the community behind a common goal – connectivity and ownership. The installation of the shelter also became a lesson in city bureaucracy.  

After being told by the top management of Veolia New Orleans that the community had the “green light” to build their own bus shelter, it reversed its opinion.  Although the shelter was near completion, residents were unable to install it.  Hollygrove residents diligently worked to convince decision makers on the RTA board to allow the installation.  Despite presentations from AARP’s staff and residents that highlighted the community designed bus shelter, and stressed that other cities like Baton Rouge and Atlanta allow communities to design their own shelters, Veolia told residents that it wants a universally static design look for all of its New Orleans shelters.
   
Undeterred by the decision, residents continued forward and decided to install the bus shelter at the community owned Hollygrove Market and Farm, an organic neighborhood farm where residents grow and purchase fruits and vegetables.

“There are a lot of great things happening in Hollygrove,” said Paul Baricos, Hollygrove Market and Farm Executive Director.  “This shelter presents an excellent opportunity for more people to come together and get involved.”

Supported from the beginning by Trinity Christian Community, Hollygrove Neighbors, the Carrollton-Hollywood Development Corporation, AARP Foundation and Harrah’s Foundation, the neighborhood has flourished. Residents have started the Hollygrove Walking Club, designed and distributed Hollygrove NETworks--a small business directory, and created SafeDrop Hot Sheets that allow residents to anonymously report crimes.   Residents are proud to call Hollygrove home.

What’s next for Hollygrove residents?  It depends on who you ask.  Transforming green space into a neighborhood park, reclaiming an abandoned Senior Center, expanding the Market and Farm.  As one neighbor put it, “you shoot for the stars, but you may hit the moon.”
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