Hailing from a rural tract near Parks, Louisiana, Joni Emmons has an intimate understanding of life in a small town on the bayou. As a designer at CPEX, Emmons brings together her appreciation of design, culture and landscape to celebrate beautiful, functional places in our state.
“I've always been really intrigued by the way that we manage the land and relate to the physical environment,” she says. “I think the way that we manage the land is an expression of values and culture. All of that is very interesting to me.”
We sat down with Emmons to discuss where she came from, geographically and culturally, and find out why she’s passionate about Louisiana.
From the Crawfish Pond to Redwood National Park
Emmons grew up near Parks, a village along historic Bayou Teche. She had an authentic Louisiana upbringing that included helping her parents with their crawfish pond. “I grew up with a deep appreciation for the Louisiana landscape; it was an ever-present force throughout my childhood,” she says.
Emmons earned degrees in English and philosophy at LSU before deciding to pursue landscape architecture as her profession. During graduate work in landscape architecture, she interned at Redwood National Park in California. “That experience was formative; it really opened my eyes to the potential for landscape architects to connect people to places, and it solidified my desire to help facilitate that connection,” she says. “I felt an almost moral imperative to return home and really showcase the beauty of the Louisiana landscape and help other people see that.”
Working with the Landscape
The term “landscape” often conjures images of well-manicured lawns, but Emmons says landscape architecture goes well beyond beautification. Landscape architects bring knowledge of local ecosystems and weather patterns to bear on their designs, combining aesthetics with functionality.
“Landscape architects bring this lens to projects that considers the land in a more complex way,” she says. “We want to make sure that landscapes serve an aesthetic function as well as very practical services that help deal with issues like flooding and water management.”
Louisiana’s Unique Properties
From coastal threats to demographic changes to economic disinvestment, Louisiana has a spectrum of problems, particularly in the rural development sector. “I can wax poetic about the beauty of Louisiana all day, but there are a whole lot of very real challenges facing this state,” Emmons says. She’s passionate about restoring towns like the one where she grew up, and sees working with CPEX as a chance to save small-town Louisiana. “It takes people who really have a love for those places and a love for Louisiana to invest in them,” she says.
Emmons says she looks forward to her future with CPEX as a chance to apply her expertise and love for Louisiana communities to real projects. “CPEX does a lot of work in small-town, rural communities in Louisiana,” she says. “We help people identify a place’s assets and articulate why they love that place so much. Then we work to figure out how good planning can enhance those assets and build on the community’s existing strengths.”