New Orleans 7th Ward resident plants a rain garden to grow a better quality of life for her neighborhood

“When Anissa got into the car with her headset on, I told her ‘If I got to get up early on a Saturday to drive you to the zoo, you need to have a conversation with me.’” Anissa Hyde was an Audubon Zoo “Jr. Keeper” at the time and needed a ride to work. She called her aunt, Angela Chalk, for a lift. Angela asked Anissa what she had been learning in school. As most children do, Anissa replied with “I don’t know...nothing really.” But Angela was determined to find out. 

Then suddenly Anissa’s face lit up as she began to tell Angela about the project she was working on at her school, Benjamin Franklin Elementary. Anissa explained how she and her classmates were building a garden, but it wasn’t any ordinary garden. This was a “rain garden” – a sunken garden that directs rain runoff into itself. The rainwater stays in the garden for a short period then gradually soaks into the ground. The purpose of Anissa’s school project was to capture and hold the rain to stop flooding of an adjacent playground. But that’s not all rain gardens do. They also naturally filter out pollutants collected 

in the rainwater. Angela thought to herself, “Well that’s an interesting concept that has a huge impact.” 

Shortly after Angela learned about this concept, she signed up for Parkway Partners’ Green Keepers program, which offers an introductory series highlighting several approaches of rainwater management and green infrastructure. It is also where Angela learned about Water Wise NOLA’s Neighborhood Workshop in Treme, where, as an attendee, she was the lucky winner of the raffled home assessment to learn rainwater management tactics specific to her property. After receiving a “prescription” for a number of green infrastructure home remedies, Angela told me, “All of this is great, but people in my neighborhood aren’t going to be interested in green infrastructure without seeing it. They would actually have to see it and engage with it so that it can be incorporated.”

angela in garden
angela in garden

When Angela told me that we need a visible, on-the-ground project to show the community, I took her word for it. Angela is not just the Vice President of the 7th Ward Neighborhood Association. She is a lifelong resident of the 7th Ward. She knows her neighbors, and they know her, and that is how she likes it. “I want to know my neighbors and I want to be inclusive of everyone.” 

Angela Chalk planting irises in her new rain garden

On March 7th, with funding from the Louisiana Foundation, Water Wise NOLA teamed up with KIPP Central City Academy’s Garden Club, Groundwork New Orleans’ Green Team, Youth Rebuilding New Orleans and students at University of New Orleans to build a rain garden at Angela’s house. Angela invited her neighbors so they could learn about the importance of managing rainwater on their property. To this day, Angela’s neighbors are still stopping by to see the rain garden that can absorb and detain approximately 300 gallons of rainwater runoff. “I know that we are a bunch of skeptical people back here, but we just need to see it to know that it works. Now just tell them to go to Angela’s house around the corner to see the 

garden. They all know where I live.” 

angela kipp digging dirt
angela kipp digging dirt

KIPP Central City students building Angela's rain garden

I asked Angela what she enjoys most about the rain garden and she said, “I can see the natural beauty of it and how it really acts. Everything that y’all said it will do, it actually does. It slows the water down. I would never have noticed how fast the water moves before installing the rain garden. I know that if we could incorporate more rain gardens across the city, it wouldn’t cost us millions of dollars and years to complete like the other large infrastructure projects. Instead, it will create an instant quality of life.”

angela's rain garden
angela's rain garden

Angela's completed rain garden