NEW ORLEANS, LA – Today, the American Planning Association (APA) announced the designation of Jackson Square as one of 10 Great Public Spaces for 2012 under the organization’s Great Places in America program. APA Great Places exemplify exceptional character and highlight the role planning and planners play in adding value to communities, including fostering economic growth and creating jobs.
APA singled out Jackson Square for its timeless design, historic and cultural significance, and views that encompass some of New Orleans’ rich architectural heritage. This prominent landmark sits in the heart of the nation’s first municipal historic district and business improvement district.
“We are honored and excited that Jackson Square has been designated as a Great Public Space,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans. “For years this park has symbolized the resilience and strength of this City. Bounded by iconic New Orleans thoroughfares and facing the Mighty Mississippi River, Jackson Square is a timeless treasure that has held a special place in the heart of New Orleans and the entire Country for many generations. Jackson Square is a proud and venerable piece of our past, present and our future that welcomes visitors and natives alike. We are grateful to the American Planning Association for this designation.”
“Every city has its crown jewel and in the eyes of Parks and Parkways as well as our citizens, Jackson Square is ours,” said Ann Macdonald, Director of the City of New Orleans Department of Parks and Parkways. “We consider it an honorable responsibility and duty to preserve and protect this magnificent piece of United States history for the citizens of New Orleans, its many visitors that come every year and generations to follow.”
Since APA began Great Places in America in 2007, 60 neighborhoods, 60 streets and 50 public spaces have been designated in 50 states and the District of Columbia.
“Once the epicenter of New Orleans’ political, commercial and spiritual life, Jackson Square today is an essential component of a thriving, mixed-use neighborhood,” said APA Chief Executive Officer Paul Farmer, FAICP. “The square transitions smoothly through the day, from tranquil park to lively marketplace to vibrant outdoor plaza that brings together residents, tourists, merchants and artists,” he added.
Known originally as Place d'Armes, Jackson Square was part of the first plan for New Orleans. Paris’ Place des Vosges heavily influenced architect Louis Pilié’s 1721 design for the park. Its proximity to the port on the Mississippi River, a church and seat of government contributed to the square’s use as an open-air market, public square and military parade ground.
It was Micaela Almonester Pontalba, the Baroness Pontalba, who financed a redesign of the park around 1850 and lobbied to rename the square after President and General Andrew Jackson, the hero of the 1814 Battle of New Orleans. The design called for an iron fence, formal gardens, walkways, benches and a bronze statue by sculptor Clark Mills of Jackson on horseback.
The Baroness’ redesign of Jackson Square was not entirely selfless, as it increased the rental value of her townhouses. These four-story, red brick, Parisian-style buildings, converted to luxury apartments in the 1930s, feature ground floor shops.
Also framing Jackson Square is the 1794 St. Louis Cathedral, named for French King Louis IX. The cathedral’s three steeples tower above their historic neighbors: the 1813 Presbytere, home to the Capuchin monks, and the 1799 Cabildo, seat of the Spanish municipal government and site of the Louisiana Transfer purchase ceremonies. Both buildings are now museums, as is one of the Pontalba apartment buildings.
The streets of Chartres, St. Peter and St. Ann were closed off in 1971 to create a pedestrian mall around Jackson Square. When construction was completed three years later, slate flagstone covered the ground between the park and the buildings that flank it. An open-air artist colony has thrived amidst the flagstone ever since.
For more information about these public spaces, as well as APA’s top 10 Great Streets and top 10 Great Neighborhoods for 2012 and previous years, visit www.planning.org/greatplaces. This year's Great Places in America are being celebrated as part of APA's National Community Planning Month during October; for more about the special month, visit www.planning.org/ncpm.