Set precariously on the ever-shifting sediment of the Mississippi delta, South Louisiana leads the world in its rate of coastal land loss, ceding to erosion and subsidence nearly 2000 square miles since the 1930s. Considering sea level rise accelerated by global warming, the state's losses are poised to nearly double by midcentury. In response to the coastal crisis, Louisiana's Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments (LA SAFE) brought together a multi-disciplinary team of experts to produce a framework for sustained prosperity amid rapid land loss and shifting social, economic, and ecological conditions. As design lead, Waggonner & Ball conducted research and analysis of the built and natural landscape, working to develop comprehensive adaptation strategies for the six target parishes as well as a wide range of catalytic project concepts. Community engagement experts led the team through over 70 public meetings across the region, collecting input from stakeholders to hear resident concerns, identify risk zones and select projects for implementation. The strategies of LA SAFE demonstrate that although the state will continue to lose land in the 21st century, its near-term investments on high ground have the power to substantially mitigate environmental threats and sustain quality of life for generations of Louisianans to come.
The cornerstone of the project is a series of 50-year Parish Vision Strategies that address the myriad impacts of past and future floods across more than 5 million acres of land and water. Taking projections from the State’s Coastal Master Plan, the design team worked to identify risk areas and to develop planning strategies that account for a retreating coastline and increased flood threats. Where the Coastal Master Plan is aimed at slowing rates of land loss and rebuilding it strategically, LA SAFE provides a framework for urbanization and community development in the context of the land that remains. In low risk areas on the highest ground, the strategies call for denser neighborhoods with diversified and sustainable economies, internal stormwater management that handles water where it falls, and increased transportation options to support growing a population. In the highest risk areas, the strategies propose elevated evacuation routes and improved infrastructure to support coastal workers, expanded recreation and ecotourism industries, and a transition away from primary residences outside the levee system.
The parish vision strategies were supplemented with 36 catalytic project concepts to improve livability and quality of life in the region despite increasing flood risk, which together address resilience holistically from many perspectives. Through sustained community meetings across the region, residents narrowed the range of projects and voted for one per parish to receive funding for implementation. A number of these projects are under development now, several by Waggonner and Ball.
While the effects of climate change will undoubtedly alter the urbanization patterns of the 21st century, and will no doubt deal many a traumatic blow to regions across the globe, LA SAFE offers an early model of the visionary pragmatism needed to sustain culture and quality of life amid unprecedented environmental uncertainty.