No Horsing Around
● By Robert Frey
By Lisa Hanchey | Submitted Photos
When Lafayette Central Park’s Director of Planning and Design, Elizabeth “EB” Brooks was studying for her permaculture certification, she started doodling her dream house on the back of her notepad. Ten years later, she bought it.
From an early age, EB knew what she wanted and went for it. The fourth generation bearing the name Elizabeth Tarleton, EB proudly carries on a legacy of strong women. “I’ve never heard of that tradition outside of our family where the women carried on the family name,” she says. “The strange part is that I was the first one to go by Elizabeth.”
Her Baton Rouge-bred mom, Beth Tarleton, met Lafayette native Gordon Brooks at LSU. The two married and moved to Fayetteville, Ark., where Elizabeth IV was born. “So, I’m Louisiana blood,” Elizabeth says proudly.
The Brooks family moved to Lafayette when Elizabeth was nine years old. Elizabeth IV attended school all over Acadiana – Ascension Episcopal School, Academy of the Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau and Lafayette High School. “It’s been really great getting to know all of the people in my age group in Lafayette,” she says. “That has really been helpful in all of my career aspirations of being a community organizer.”
During eighth grade at Sacred Heart, Elizabeth IV was officially dubbed “EB.” “Of 26 girls, there were six Elizabeths in the class,” she explains. “The teachers sat us down and said, ‘None of you can be called Elizabeth anymore.’ So, they had us name each other. The girl who became Liz named me EB.”
Changing The Environment
– And Changing The World
After graduating from ESA, EB attended the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) for a year and a half. While there, she read a book called Ishmael. “It totally changed my life,” EB recalls. “I didn’t even know that an environmental activist was a career that you could actually pursue.”
Her dad, who serves as Dean of the College of the Arts at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, told her about the Renewable Resources program at UL’s College of Applied Life Sciences. EB decided to focus on sustainable community development. “It was the perfect fit for what I really wanted to do,” she explains. “Who knew that ULL would have a degree program with that much emphasis on sustainability, community development and activism? It was amazing.”
While at UL, she met her mentor, the late Dr. Griff Blakewood. Back then he was the faculty advisor for UL’s Society for Peace Environmental Action and Knowledge, popularly known as SPEAK. “Through SPEAK, I met a huge cohort of other activists,” EB says. “With Dr. Blakewood’s leadership in this group of really passionate, educated, excited young people, we believed that we could change the world. And, we just started doing it.”
Life On The Horse Farm
One of SPEAK’s pet projects was the Horse Farm. For decades, university presidents and other officials lived on the 100-acre property, which was initially used as a working dairy farm. After the cows were relocated to another university-operated farm in St. Martin Parish, the land was used as the University Equestrian Center, leading to its infamous nickname, the “Horse Farm.”
On the Horse Farm was a small white house renewable resource students were allowed to use for free in exchange for working 10 hours a week at the Ira Nelson Horticultural Center. The last student to live in the house was EB’s best friend, Danica Adams. “I would have lived there with her, but I was studying in Costa Rica at the time,” EB says.
Saving The Horse Farm
Eventually Adams was asked to leave the house at the Horse Farm and was provided no explanation. Three months later, Dr. Blakewood came into EB’s community-based planning class with a newspaper announcing that the Horse Farm property was being developed into a subdivision. “All of a sudden, it all made sense,” EB recalls.
Class members were outraged. Adams bolted out of the classroom, and EB rushed after her. “We made a pact, right there on the steps of Hamilton Hall, that we were going to do everything we could to save the Horse Farm,” she says.
When they returned to class, Dr. Blakewood proclaimed, “Let’s do something about it!” A class member who designed websites volunteered to post something that evening. The students bought the website, savethehorsefarm.com, and the movement began.
As leaders of SPEAK, EB and Adams had a ready-made roster of eager advocates. With seed money earned from Festival Acadien’s first recycling program, SPEAK purchased the website and 1,000 yard signs brandishing “savethehorsefarm.com.” The next SPEAK meeting was converted to a public forum.
Afterwards, the grassroots effort launched an online petition and letter writing campaign. “It was amazingly successful,” EB says. A few months later, Lafayette Consolidated Government President Joey Durel got onboard and began negotiations with UL.
On The Career Path
In the meantime, EB embarked on her own personal journey. After graduating from UL, she became one of the City Hall Fellows in Houston, where she worked for Mayor Bill White. Following her fellowship, she went to graduate school at the University of Texas in Austin for a dual degree program in community and regional planning and urban design. “I was the first student to go through that program, which was one of the reasons that I chose to go to school there,” she explains. “Another reason was because I believed that Austin was kind of aligned with Lafayette, because it’s a progressive city that has a lot of arts and culture and emphasis on economic development around those things. And, I felt that Austin would be a really great model to learn lessons about planning and urban design and the ways in which they’ve gotten their city to be so cool, so that I could take those lessons back to Lafayette.”
While pursuing her Master’s, EB worked at the Center for Sustainable Development in Austin. “I got to use a lot of the skills that I had developed during the Save the Horse Farm campaign,” she says. “The Horse Farm has been an amazing career development opportunity for me.”
EB was recruited away from Austin to work as the planning and urban design project manager for Better Houston. Then, she was hired to be the assistant public information officer for the City of Houston’s Solid Waste Management Department.
Returning To Lafayette
On June 3, 2012, the University of Lafayette sold the Horse Farm property to Lafayette Consolidated Government for $6.8 million. In January 2013, the non-profit Lafayette Central Park was formed. EB was asked to join the board. “The board members realized early on that because of the community support of the Save the Horse Farm campaign, they needed to have some of the leaders of that campaign onboard,” she recalls. “And so, they asked me to serve as a board member for Lafayette Central Park.”
When the time came to hire a project director, Lafayette Central Park turned to EB. She stepped down from the board, applied for the position, and got the job. “I felt like I would be better served in the day-to-day actions of making the Horse Farm really come to fruition, rather than coming to a monthly board meeting,” EB explains. “Given the grass roots nature of the campaign, I think that the board realized early on that one of the only ways that we would be able to meet our deadlines was to have a leader who had already spent eight years getting to know all of the players, establishing relationships, and building up the trust in the community,” she says.
Life Happens – And Long-Held
Dreams Come True
At the time, EB had just accepted a position as planning director for Houston’s Downtown District, and had recently bought a condo overlooking the city. “I had this dream job at age 30 doing all of the planning and research to really boost downtown Houston,” she recalls. “But, the Horse Farm was the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life. It was crazy, but life is what happens when you are busy making plans.”
In May 2014, EB officially became the Director of Planning & Design at Lafayette Central Park. She rented out her condo in Houston, returned home for a month, and then moved into the same condo where she had lived while running the Save the Horse Farm campaign.
Before moving back to Lafayette, she found her dream house. “I manifested my own job, and then I manifested my own house,” she says.
While earning her permaculture certification 10 years earlier, EB started drawing plans for a “green” house. “I wrote down all of these notes of everything I would want in it – solar panels on the roofs; white roofs to reflect the sun’s rays so they didn’t trap heat,” she explains. “I drew the design of this chicken coop-style roof with clear story windows at the top -- what my green roof design would look like.”
In February 2014, she told her realtor that she wanted a house in the Freetown or Saint Streets area. The following week, she saw an article about COURhouse, a sustainable home designed by UL’s Building Institute. “It is shaped like a U around a central courtyard, which is another thing in the last 10 years that I wanted – for all of the rooms to open up into a courtyard,” EB describes. “I saw the photos of this house, and I was like, ‘That is the house I designed 10 years ago!’”
EB moved into COURhouse in March, fulfilling another dream. “I am such a firm believer in the power of intention, and just believing that you have the power to manipulate your future and make amazing things happen for yourself,” she says. “Everything I’ve ever wanted, I’ve got.”
The Next Step
What’s next on EB’s agenda of success? “Raising $30 million for the Horse Farm,” she says. With her track record, there’s no doubt it will happen.