Greauxing Resilience at Home: A Regional Vision

 

The Regional Vision offers an innovative legal, planning, and policy resource to promote community resilience through housing and nature-based solutions in places where flooding, extreme weather events, and other factors are driving population changes and transitions. It was developed by Capital Region Planning Commission and Georgetown Climate Center, in collaboration with policymakers, community members, and other stakeholders in Region Seven of the Louisiana Watershed Initiative located in southeast Louisiana.

The Regional Vision is intended to serve as an informational and peer-learning resource for regional and local governments in Region Seven. It also offers insights for other jurisdictions across Louisiana, throughout the Gulf Coast region, and nationally.

 

Foreword: Living Between Floods


 Jamie Setze, Executive Director, Capital Region Planning Commission

and Kathryn Zyla, Executive Director, Georgetown Climate Center


Following the Louisiana floods of 2016, stories began to surface of survivors of Hurricane Katrina whose homes were underwater for the second time in just under 11 years. People who experienced what should have been a once-in-a-lifetime event suddenly found themselves wondering — again — when they would be able to go back home, where their children would go to school, and how they would afford all of life’s expenses, all while grappling with the mental struggles that come with surviving multiple disasters.

These stories of “living between floods” tie generations of Louisianans to one another. For centuries, artists and musicians have passed these stories on through songs like Backwater Blues by Bessie Smith. However, history is not destiny. Those same stories and songs have the power to inspire people to seek out ways to break the cycle, and to work together to help communities become more resilient in the face of a changing climate.

In 2018, against the backdrop of increasing flooding and extreme weather events, Governor John Bel Edwards signed an executive order to create the Council on Watershed Management. The council subsequently launched the Louisiana Watershed Initiative (LWI). LWI is aimed at reducing flood risk by aligning programs and policies across local, regional, and state governments through the development of eight distinct regional watershed management entities. The Capital Region Planning Commission (CRPC) was designated the coordinator for the Region Seven watershed. In partnership with Georgetown Climate Center (GCC), our organizations have led a two-year collaborative, cross-jurisdictional effort that has resulted in this Regional Vision we call Greauxing Resilience at Home: A Regional Vision.  

Louisianans have always pulled together to meet the challenges that confront them. Big challenges call for big teams to bring about big and meaningful changes to increase local and regional resilience. In addition to CRPC and GCC, this Regional Vision is the work of a diverse group of directors of departments in local parishes, leaders of regional nongovernmental organizations, academic researchers, and others who came together as members of the Protecting Our Resilient Waters of Louisiana or “PROWL” Work Group. Their efforts are supplemented by approximately 100 stakeholder interviews and over 50 case study examples. 

Early in this process, the PROWL Work Group identified two cornerstones for the Regional Vision: (1) the urgent need for more safe, housing that is affordable to people across all income levels; and (2) the importance of nature-based approaches for building resilience, such as creating greenways to provide more communities with greater access to trees and open spaces and restoring, conserving, and protecting wetlands to reduce flood risks and improve water quality. The expertise that Work Group members brought to the consideration of these and other opportunities to “greaux” or grow resilience served this Regional Vision well. We are grateful for their service.  

The Regional Vision is intended to serve as an informational and peer-learning resource for regional and local governments in Region Seven. We believe it also offers insights for other jurisdictions across Louisiana, throughout the Gulf Coast region, and nationally. The legal, planning, policy, and project ideas in this Regional Vision, as well as the accompanying collection of 50 detailed case studies, are relevant to policymakers anywhere who are seeking to increase the affordability, availability, and safe condition of housing while also increasing community resilience.

We also want to acknowledge the historical context that flows throughout the whole of this work, and flag an important consideration for policymakers. Similar to many places across the United States, southeast Louisiana’s land-use patterns and environmental landscape have been shaped by explicit and implicit racial segregation that can still be felt today. At the outset of this Regional Visioning process, both CRPC and GCC, guided by the PROWL Work Group, prioritized the need to ground this work in a local context. Throughout the entirety of this process all participants did just that by partnering directly with regional and local governments and stakeholders to actively listen to a diversity of voices and perspectives from the people on the ground. 

The Regional Vision alone cannot adequately honor and do justice to respect how segregation and other issues have impacted land-use and development across such a large watershed region filled with a myriad of cultures, histories, and lived experiences. Accordingly, we note that regional and local policymakers need to have authentic and meaningful dialogues with their communities if they consider making progress on the goals included in the Regional Vision. This work requires obtaining a firm understanding not just about the present and working towards a more resilient future, but understanding how the past shaped the state of human development in Louisiana today.

We also offer a couple of caveats. First, we know how critical funding and financing are to the design and implementation of resilient strategies. This Regional Vision does not delve deep into funding and financing sources and strategies. However, we have included a companion section on funding and financing that presents high-level summaries of some crosscutting, national-level approaches for consideration. Second, while the Regional Vision discusses legal concepts and cites to laws in Louisiana and other state, regional, and local jurisdictions, it should not be read as offering legal advice from CRPC, GCC, or any other person or entity affiliated with the Regional Vision.

In addition to the many community leaders and PROWL Work Group members who have contributed to this Regional Vision, we offer a special thanks to Rachelle Sanderson, Region Seven Regional Watershed Coordinator at CRPC, and Katie Spidalieri, Senior Associate at GCC, for their tireless work on this project over the course of the last two years. Their leadership and contributions have given life to this resource that will support so many to realize a more resilient future in the months and years to come.   

It is our hope that this Regional Vision sparks a greater understanding that when cross-jurisdictional coordination and collaboration start with a recognition of our shared humanity, it can bring about real, lasting improvements in the safety and well-being of our neighbors. That shared humanity is what will help Louisianans get through future flooding and extreme weather events. We hope it will inspire policymakers in Region Seven and beyond to work toward solutions that benefit everyone.