Change and Contention: Palmer Park During the 1970s

The 1970s was a period of contention over the future of Palmer Park as local residents opposed efforts by the city to incorporate the park and convert it to a playground. Residents, labeling themselves “Concerned Citizens of Carrollton,” ran an advertisement in the Times-Picayune in 1972 in opposition to the park take over by the New Orleans Recreation Department (NORD). They argued that the park would turn into a playground and suffer the same fate as other NORD parks: disrepair, declining property values for nearby homes, and warning it would become a “public disgrace.”

In May 1972, a lawyer whose home was across the street from Palmer Park sued the City Parkway and Parks Commission over proposed playground equipment. He argued that the equipment, intended for small children, would instead provide a hangout for teenagers and “nuisances.” He asked for the proposed equipment's relocation and the commission complied, placing it in the center of the park instead of the periphery, stating they never had any plan to turn the park into a major recreation area. The city erected several small pieces of equipment in the park. One resident complained that teenagers "intimidated" younger children on the slide NORD built.

The "Concerned Citizens” group, led by the local attorney, continued the fight against the conversion to NORD. He argued the commission intended to use public funds to convert Palmer Park into a playground when nearby playgrounds already existed; he threatened to report the misuse of the funds to federal authorities. The group was adamant about the space's preservation as a strictly “promenade park.” The battle was waged both at meetings of NORD and in the Times-Picayune where both sides published letters to the editors. The dispute between the city and local residents became even more agitated when rumor spread that the park was the new location of the Second District Police Station; the City’s Planning Commission denied the report.

In 1975, the Parkway and Parks Commission announced they had approved a $240,000 dollar “facelift” for the park. They argued the plan was a compromise with nearby residents. Plans deemed that one half of the park preserved a “passive area emphasizing quiet recreation such as walking, reading and jogging," the other half a “low-key play equipment” that “would blend into surrounding neighborhood.” The play equipment would be made of wood and the idea was for “children to use their imagination.” They also announced one spot of the park would be marked as an area for a small football game. The commission promised general improvements for the park including better drainage, raised sidewalks, improved lighting, more water fountains, and more trash cans. Residents were not pleased with the compromise; one letter to the editor argued the equipment that had already been placed had turned the park into a “howling, noisy place” made even worse by the fact that the children using the equipment were not from the neighborhood but rather “brought by automobile and dropped off and later picked up.”

The commission’s proposed plans became even more ambitious later that year. As part of an overall plan to green and beautify the city, they intended major improvements for thirty parks and squares in the city and the addition of new small neighborhood parks. In addition to the afore-mentioned playground equipment, several projects envisioned for Palmer Park were planned, including new berms with pedestrian bridges, plants and small trees, large trees along the perimeter; repainting the archway in bright colors, a new walkway from the arch to the center of the park covered by a canopy of trees, and new paths throughout the park. The commission argued that public spaces in the city had been “allowed to deteriorate to become something less than inviting for people.” The changes would “enhance quality of city life, to make it a more pleasant experience for the city dweller.” They also stated that the people of the city had their say in the matter and were in favor of the new changes. In particular, neighbors of Palmer Park, they noted, wanted the park changed to make it more amenable to small children and adults; also, the berms would help cancel noise emanating from the park.

The issue was far from decided, however. The Times-Picayune noted a “Battle a Brewin’” over the matter. City Councilman Frank Friedler, Jr., warned he would oppose the changes unless the commission also provided someone with daily maintenance and security. Similarly, during the August 1975 final meeting on the matter, local residents urged the city to use the money for improvement on security. They argued the park had been “invaded” by “winos” and other “undesirable characters.” They stated they were afraid of assault in the park. The commission urged the residents to address the issue with the police and countered the proposed improvements would attract more “desirable” users. They approved the city’s proposed changes. Over several years, improvements occurred gradually.

In 1977, Palmer Park officially became part of the Park and Parkways Commission. A 1978 dedication ceremony, co-sponsored by the Carrollton Business Men’s Association, featured speeches by Mayor Moon Landrieu, Parkway and Parks Commission

Superintendent Charles Nutter, and the “honorary” mayor of Carrollton J. C. Meynier, Jr., as well as a performance by the Tulane University Concert Band.



Audio recording of the above narrative "Change and Contention"
Source: Audio recording courtesy of Kevin McQueeney. ~ Creator: Kevin McQueeney ~ Date: 2013
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Palmer Park, New Orleans, LA