LSU's Coastal Sustainability Studio to Direct Resiliency Assistance Program for Louisiana Office of Community Development

With four massive hurricanes impacting Louisiana between 2005 and 2008, the state has been forced to face the challenges of a changing landscape in both urban and rural areas. Addressing issues such as land subsidence, rise of sea level, loss of wetlands and increased storm activity have become more urgent with every passing year.

The LSU Coastal Sustainability Studio, or CSS, will be at the forefront of assisting communities to tackle these concerns, as it was recently awarded a $600,000 contract to oversee the Resiliency Assistance Program for the State of Louisiana's Office of Community Development, Disaster Recovery Unit, or DRU.

The assistance program is part of OCD's Comprehensive Resiliency Program, which was developed to provide non-structural recovery – creation of legislation, policies, knowledge and public commitment – to some of the state's most at-risk communities to avoid future disaster situations. The program is currently funding a series of 29 local resiliency projects throughout the state.

Jeff Carney, director of the LSU Coastal Sustainability Studio, said that the program will assist the smallest and most underserved communities to access planning efforts locally, while also presenting a clear vision for resiliency planning in Louisiana to the rest of the state and the nation.

Through the resiliency program, funds were made available to local governments and non-profit entities in parishes impacted by hurricanes Gustav and Ike through a competitive application process. Of the 64 communities that applied for the program, 29 projects were awarded grants in June 2010, totaling more than $9 million.

Strength through planning

The implementation of the program will feature four key aspects: creation of a website to serve as a repository of resources, creation of a best practices manual for resiliency planning, hosting regional workshops with goals of education and implementation in resiliency and hosting a symposium at the culmination of the program to present its findings.

Through the development of an interactive and dynamic website, Carney said, the project will develop a dialogue between community members, professional planners, academic researchers and state and local politicians about resiliency planning and the means to achieve it. The site will feature sections that define resiliency and related themes, present case study planning projects within and outside Louisiana and develop frameworks for implementation. It will also provide planning resources for resiliency projects such as instructional modules, definitions and mapping resources, among others.

"The website is going to be the public face of the program," he said. "As a whole, it will provide an educational space for people unfamiliar with the concept, as well as a functional and comprehensive workspace for community members who are deeply involved in the planning process."

The site will grow in functionality as the project progresses, adding projects and webinars as they are completed, Carney said. After the project is complete, the program's website will continue to operate as part of the LSU Coastal Sustainability Studio.

To properly implement resiliency plans, a high level of coordination will need to exist across parish lines, as well as between industries and in communities where such efforts have not existed in previous years. To this end, the program will focus on clearly articulating steps toward implementation and resolution of potential conflicts.

"Particular communities are currently working towards implementing the resiliency plans, but the buy-in needed to make them successful often encompasses a much larger community," Carney said. "Therefore, it's important that parish leaders and community members speak the same language about resiliency planning."

Carney said that the planned manual of best practices in resiliency planning will be a downloadable collection of the information found on the website.

"The collective work will showcase the rich regional differences that we have in Louisiana, and bring out of them the applications and tools that can be used in communities across the state," he said.

At the completion of the project, scheduled for late 2013, an invited symposium of noteworthy experts, community members and state and local officials will be held to discuss the project's efforts. The event will coincide with the planning and organization of a conference sponsored by CSS. This one-day event at LSU will highlight the breadth of resiliency planning ongoing in Louisiana and hold up the work as a nationally significant model.

"The meeting will be the culmination of two years of work, but will also mark the beginning of LSU's commitment to leading resiliency planning efforts into the future," Carney noted.

Studio know-how

The LSU Coastal Sustainability Studio's involvement in the resiliency assistance program brings to the table a wide range of university scientists, engineers, architects, landscape architects and urban designers, according to Carney.

"What the Office of Community Development saw in the CSS proposal was our multi-discipline perspective," he said. "The fact that we are made up of designers, planners, scientists, engineers and social scientists was appealing to them. The projects will have access to the entire university."

Carney and the CSS Executive Committee will oversee the management of the program, which includes a staff of full time research fellows and graduate students. A university-wide advisory board, including faculty members across campus engaged in work specifically related to the project, will also convene quarterly to provide support, research and community connections to the project.

Initiated in 2009 through the continued support of Chevron and America's Wetland Foundation, the mission of CSS is to address the challenge of sustaining the ecological, settlement, and economic framework of the coastal region. The studio is a place where scientists, engineers and designers come together to intensively study and respond to issues at the intersection of settlement, coastal restoration, flood protection and the economy. Often pitted against one another, these themes are in fact bound together through their primary relationship to the Mississippi River. The river is the shared backbone to the region's economy, environment and way of life.

The goal of the studio is to envision and design sustainable systems that reduce vulnerability associated with increased storm strength, land subsidence, habitat degradation and global environmental change. Since its inception, the CSS has succeeded in engaging with communities, developing strong connections across the different disciplines, becoming a space for exchange on the LSU campus and beginning to affect the discourse about the coast in the media, political and academic realms on the local, state, federal and even global levels.

Carney said he believes CSS' involvement with the resiliency assistance program will not only benefit those directly impacted by resiliency issues, but will also have an effect on current coastal research and assistance efforts at LSU.

"For us, it's a great scale of work to undertake and a great opportunity to increase our engagement with communities across Louisiana dealing with these issues," he said. "For LSU, it's a good step as well. There's a lot of work being done here to address resiliency issues, but much of it is specifically targeted to one particular discipline or audience. A lot of things are being done that are disconnected from one another. We see this project as a means to unite many of those efforts and shed some light on the great work happening here at LSU."