Apply now to join our next cohort of Community Science Fellows and Community Leads!

Designing Bioswales for Improved Air Quality, Serenity and Reduced Flood Risk

New Orleans, Louisiana

Featured image for the project, Designing Bioswales for Improved Air Quality, Serenity and Reduced Flood Risk

A proposed project area for a new neighborhood green space. Photo courtesy of Google Maps. Diagram courtesy of students of Dr. John Pardue at Louisiana State University.

Most of the working poor African American communities were flooded in New Orleans, Louisiana and severely impacted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The same areas continue to face issues of low air quality, high flood risk, massive loss of affordable housing units  and neglected infrastructure. A Community Voice aims to design and create a bioswale that will provide a green space, to help improve air quality and absorb urban flooding. Community members can enjoy nature in their own backyard and know that the plants and soil are contributing to a safer neighborhood. Plants used in the bioswale will provide a variety of benefits from pollution reduction, shading and cooling, and medicinal effects. 

This project builds on a previous Thriving Earth Exchange project with A Community Voice and Louisiana State University 


The Community: 

  • The community includes low to moderate income residents of the 8th ward/St. Roch/New Marigny area, part of a vast neighborhood largely east of Canal Street in New Orleans, Louisiana.  It’s a historic, densely residential, heavily paved area that has some housing that dates back to the mid-1800’s. However, the majority of the 8th Ward remained under-developed until improved drainage systems were put into place at the beginning of the 20th century. 
  • New Orleans culture evolved from the working poor Black communities, including the 8th ward, home of Mardi Gras Indians, musicians, singers, and artists.  The area was always mixed racially, though at one time it was also a center for German Catholic immigrants.  It’s proximity to the river and French Quarter/CBD guaranteed ease of access for workers to their jobs and commerce.   
  • The Mississippi River is a known conveyance for pollution in its waters, but the wind field over it also carries heavy metals and toxins from the nation’s most intense corridor of polluters upriver, which disburse throughout the 8th and other ward neighborhoods. Despite some gentrification, the residents are eager to hold firm to New Orleans residents and are eager to have both a site that fights pollution, supports poor residents and creates affordable housing to help stabilize the influence of gentrifiers.  Due to the heavy air pollution, neighbors are eager to have plants and trees that consume pollution located on the lot. 

A Community Voice: 

  • Many residents belong to neighborhood groups affiliated with A Community Voice, a local non-profit working on social, environmental and economic justice projects for low-income communities. A Community Voice was founded in 2009 and is an affiliate of ACORN, an international network of community organizations fighting challenges of poor and working-class  people. 
  • The priority of this project is to provide a prototype that itself is a paradise with a bioswale suitable and planned for long-term affordable sustainable housing.  It will begin as a green space in the 8th ward. 
  • A Community Voice started work on this project in 2018 with initial designs of a bioswale from the work of LSU environmental engineering students.  

The Project:

The goal of the project is to design and install an urban green space for community members to spend time outdoors and improve air quality and mitigate flood risk . The activities of the project will include researching the best vegetation and soil types for developing a bioswale with benefits including air quality improvement, food or medicinal properties, and flood water absorption. A Community Voice plans to engage the local residents to ensure the space fits the needs of the community and results in a sustainable, welcoming paradise for the community. They are also planning to recruit local residents as volunteers to maintain the bioswale.  

The project will be completed on an empty 100ft x 25 ft lot at 1516 Arts St. New Orleans, Louisiana. Permit acquisition is currently underway. We hope this project can be a model for similar projects throughout the urban south and a proof of concept for developing sustainable green spaces with multiple benefits. 

Two maps showing the area.

Maps of the project area in New Orleans. Images courtesy of Google Maps.

Timeline and Milestones:

A Community Voice would like to design and install the 2500 ft2 bioswale by August 2022.  

Project Team

Community Leads



Headshot of Beth Butler

Beth Butler, Executive Director of A Community Voice


Headshot of Debra Campbell

Debra Campbell, elected chairperson of A Community Voice


Community Science Fellow



Alex Christensen head shot

Alex Christensen (she/her) is a coastal scientist studying wetland ecology and hydrology.

Scientist Wanted

We are looking for 2-3 scientists to assist with this project that will complement the goals of this project. We are looking for people passionate about urban green spaces and motivated to use natural landscapes in social justice efforts. There are no specific education requirements and the scientist doesn’t need to live in New Orleans. 

Desired Skills and Qualifications 

Plant Ecologist  

  • Our first priority is to choose plants that will best suit this green space with properties such as: 
  • Improving air quality 
  • Suitable for Louisiana climate 
  • Potential medicinal properties 
  • Reduce flood risk and/or absorb nuisance floodwater. 
  • This scientist should have a knowledge of native species, local ecology and beneficial properties of community green spaces 
  • Bonus: some knowledge of soil properties for mitigating flood risk 

Landscape Architect 

  • Our second priority is to design a space that is welcoming to residents. 
  • This scientist/designer would help design the bioswale to optimize the small space, incorporating factors of maintenance, sustainability, and useability.  
  • Experience designing small, urban green spaces 
  • Knowledge of Louisiana climate and vegetation maintenance.  
  • Bonus: experience working in low-incoming communities

Air Quality Specialist (Lower priority) 

  • This scientist would help measure air pollution in the area and identify vegetation that would be most beneficial for the community.  
  • Experience measuring air quality and/or studying the impacts of vegetation on urban pollution. 
  • This role is of lower priority as measuring air quality is not an essential part of this project. However, we would like to establish measurements of air quality parameters throughout the area to assess the potential for future green spaces. 
  • Bonus: access to simple, affordable air quality test kits. 

Thriving Earth Exchange asks all scientific partners to work with the community to help define a project with concrete local impact to which they can contribute as pro-bono volunteers and collaborators. This work can also position the scientists and communities to seek additional funding, together, for the next stage. 


Interested in volunteering as a scientist? Apply now! 


Collaborating Organization(s)

A Community Voice has been collaborating with Dr. John Pardue and students from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Louisiana State University. More information about this collaboration can be found here.