The American Resilience Roadtrip series follows concerned citizen Ben Colombo on a year-long, 50-state tour to find out how city governments, citizen groups, nonprofits, and others are making their communities more sustainable, more resilient, and better served. Follow Ben and ICLEI USA on Twitter and Instagram as we discover a more sustainable, more compassionate USA thriving at the ground level.
On the day I arrived in Baton Rouge, LA, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it would not pursue charges against two white police officers for the killing of Alton Sterling, a black man. Protests erupted last July in the immediate aftermath of the shooting and tensions were heightened downtown in nervous anticipation of how Baton Rouge’s residents might react.
This coincidence of timing was a potent reminder that the resilience of communities is greatly influenced by their cohesiveness — the strength of which ebbs and flows based on collective perceptions of justice, fairness, and opportunity.
Assessing Climate Risks at the Center for Planning Excellence
Against this backdrop, I walked into the offices of the Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX), the state’s only nonprofit planning organization, in the beautiful mixed-use Shaw Center for the Arts and it began to pour. This too was a powerful moment of symbolism, although I didn’t realize just how apropos it was until I began speaking with CPEX’s Camille Manning-Broome.
As a Senior Vice President at CPEX, where she has worked on numerous statewide resiliency and planning efforts, Camille explained that when it comes to Louisiana, water is the enemy.
Over the past eighteen months, 56 of the 64 parishes in the state were issued major disaster declarations by the federal government, as a result of severe storms and flooding. On top of this, southern Louisiana is sinking at a rate that is already threatening the viability of far south Delta communities. Coupled with expected sea level rises and the likelihood of further severe weather events, Louisiana clearly has some major challenges on its hands, yet prior to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, fewer than 10 parishes in Louisiana had hazard mitigation plans.
Camille Manning-Broome, Lauren Knotts and the team @cpex_la are using their planning expertise to help communities across Southern Louisiana increase the quality of their neighborhoods, strengthen their resilience, improve their transportation choices and heighten their civic engagement.
Planning for the 22nd Century
Fortunately, people like Camille, her colleague Lauren Knotts, and the whole team at CPEX are fighting back. Actually, more than just fighting back against severe storm events, and sticking their fingers further into the proverbial dike, they are working to help Louisiana’s communities better co-exist with the realities of a changing climate.
As Camille told me, she is focused on providing support to local governments to help them adapt to future flood risks, by thinking about what their infrastructure and planning needs are going to be in the 22nd century.
With that kind of long-term perspective, grounded in a deep understanding of today’s science and bolstered by an expertise in sustainable strategic planning, CPEX is strengthening the resilience of Louisiana’s rain-drenched and low-lying communities. In doing so, it is their hope and mine that they will be able to preserve the unique culture of this wonderful state for generations to come.
Ben Colombo is a Senior Vice President at a New York based CEO advisory firm. He is inspired by the critical role that local governments and organizations are playing to address sustainability and resilience issues across the United States and is proud to partner with ICLEI USA on The American Resilience Roadtrip. Follow the Roadtrip on Twitter and Instagram.