Louisiana is at a pivotal moment. We’ve faced disaster after disaster since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. We have been in a state of constant recovery. It’s past time for us to pivot — we must chart a course to proactive decision making for our future.
Too often we hear talk about the need for change and action to address the challenges our state faces (especially right after an event), but too frequently as we move further from a stressful event, the momentum for change fizzles out. We return to our day-to-day demands. Humans have a tendency to revert to the status quo. If we want the kinds of transformative changes required to secure a resilient, prosperous future for Louisiana, we have to shift our thinking and our behavior in real ways. Even incremental shifts will produce big changes over time.
That’s why our focus in 2019 is on identifying the specific changes that must take place to create the many facets of resilience that we need — and then putting them into action. Our role is to understand the range of planning-related problems Louisiana communities are facing — growing flood risk, blighted neighborhoods, lack of multimodal connectivity, overtaxed infrastructure — and provide tools and resources that help others understand how these problems emerged and how they can be managed. Ultimately our goal is to facilitate the actions needed to address those problems and create more resilient, healthy and thriving communities.
Taking deliberate action to create specific desired changes requires planning, so we need to prioritize planning at all levels. Identifying solutions is actually not the hard part of building better communities — implementing them is. Our planning efforts must include and be supported by the data, outreach, engagement and technical assistance needed to build community support. But none of it is possible without leaders at every level, in every sector, who have the courage to address our complexities and the willingness to make hard decisions and alter behavior in ways that actually change the status quo. CPEX strives to lead in this way, and we are always seeking others to join us.
Here are a few ways that CPEX is working to create more resilient, healthy communities in 2019.
Improving Decisions About Land Use
Whether the problem is education, the economy or congestion, land use plays a key role. If we make informed decisions about land use, we can make significant improvements across all these sectors that affect the quality of life in our community.
In Baton Rouge, CPEX will continue working with residents and leaders on smaller, short-term projects that will have big effects on quality of life through improvements to the built environment at the neighborhood scale. CPEX is also facilitating creation of the Baton Rouge Planning Collaborative, which will enable these hyper-local efforts to have even greater impact and accelerate revitalization. The Planning Collaborative will start small with a core group focused on elevating the role of planning in East Baton Rouge Parish, and eventually expand to include as many entities engaging in planning and investment of public dollars as possible. The collaborative will create a vehicle for sharing information, identifying opportunities for cooperation between planning entities and community groups, and creating efficiencies that will lead to improvements to our built environment.
Tailoring Resilience Solutions
Resilience means something different to every community and in every context. CPEX is committed to building the kind of resilience that’s right for each community and to tailoring those solutions to the different needs of each community we work with.
Building resilience in Louisiana communities means addressing the coastal crisis and the many ways it’s connected to environmental challenges that the rest of the state is facing, including increased flood risk. In 2016 we saw a growing flood-risk profile for places such as Baton Rouge, Livingston Parish and other communities previously thought to be at lower risk. A comprehensive approach to resilience at the state level that is well-coordinated with local leaders is needed to create strategies and policies that support resilience building as an essential part of parish master planning.
With support from the Foundation for Louisiana, CPEX’s Watershed Workshops are helping to do just that by providing expertise, support and strategies for adapting to increased flood risk as a means to make communities more resilient. In partnership with the Office of Community Development, a Regional Watershed Management Workshop was held at the Smart Growth Summit in November that connected leaders to best practices from around the country and to leading efforts here in Louisiana. Additional watershed workshops are planned for 2019 throughout the state.
Adaptations for the Future
In Louisiana we’re on the front lines of climate change. The problem is real and the risk to our communities, our culture and our way of life is growing. Our coastal communities are experiencing it daily as they lose land to encroaching sea levels. But even though Louisiana is experiencing some climate-related problems sooner and to a greater degree than other places, planners and scientists have already identified solutions for many of the challenges we face.
We have the knowledge and the know-how to tackle these problems head-on and make informed decisions to mitigate the risk to our coast, adapt to changes that are inevitable and ensure our people thrive and our culture lives on.
CPEX’s work in Houma is a great example of how we’ll be building knowledge, cultivating leaders and implementing solutions that address environmental changes. With funding from the National Academy of Sciences, we’re working with the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center to incorporate the science of Louisiana’s unique coastal environment and challenges into high-school curriculum in the parish’s public schools. Students will learn the science, engage with a coastal resilience tool kit, and have opportunities to develop and propose resilience-building projects to help their communities adapt to environmental changes. At least three of the projects will be funded for implementation.
CPEX is also working with Houma to update its comprehensive plan to better address the effects of coastal land loss and climate change. The updates will incorporate sustainable development strategies for higher ground in anticipation of environmentally motivated population shifts that will drive growth in the area.
These are some of the big issues that towns across Louisiana face. And change doesn't happen overnight. But if we work to educate and equip all our communities — both rural and urban — with the planning tools and resources to solve these big problems, we can create a more innovative, resilient and livable Louisiana. Our children deserve nothing less.