Harris Playground restored

‘Park makes the neighborhood better’

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER Trumpeters Patrick Batiste and Diamond Coleman perform Wednesday at the ribbon-cutting for Harris Playground in the Gentilly Woods neighborhood.
Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER Trumpeters Patrick Batiste and Diamond Coleman perform Wednesday at the ribbon-cutting for Harris Playground in the Gentilly Woods neighborhood.

Wednesday was a day of celebration for the children of Gentilly Woods.

More than seven years after Hurricane Katrina destroyed Harris Playground, their tiny park in the 4900 block of Louisa Street is back.

Colorful new playground equipment that sits on the site was installed by dozens of volunteers and made possible through a partnership of the city, the Injury Free Coalition for Kids and the Allstate Foundation.

Harris marked the seventh playground in New Orleans the insurance company has helped to repair since the storm.

Tom Wilson, president and CEO of Allstate, said he hopes the park represents to the neighborhood — particularly its youngest residents, some of whom helped design aspects of the play space — that it isn’t forgotten as it continues its recovery.

“This playground is more than just a physical presence,” Wilson said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony. “It’s a symbol.”

Pontilly Neighborhood Association President Victor Gordon agreed, saying the park’s restoration keeps alive the hope, which is the only thing many people had after Katrina.

“This is a great gift to us,” he said. “Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

Mayor Mitch Landrieu and City Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell said one of the smartest things the city can do is invest in its youth.

“We’re not just building a playground,” Landrieu said. “We’re building the foundation of America.”

While it might take some time for the neighborhood children to absorb the adults’ intended meaning of the new park, they realize the immediate effects.

Standing behind a podium, just barely able to peek over the top, Monay Lewis, a fifth-grade student at neighboring Mary D. Coghill Elementary School, said she remembered playing there before Katrina and was excited to see it come back.

“This is a beautiful playground. I can’t wait to play every day,” Monay said. “The park makes the neighborhood better.”