In the coastal Louisiana town of Jean Lafitte, a newly published resiliency plan offers regulatory ideas and solutions that potentially have great value for coastal planning efforts in Alabama and Mississippi. The Resiliency Plan, devised by Dover, Kohl and Partners, offers many tools and strategies to help Jean Lafitte adapt to and withstand adverse environmental changes associated with the Gulf Coast region.
The town, surrounded by estuaries and swampland, has a rather precarious relationship with the water, one that may become further exacerbated by Louisiana’s land subsidence. Recognizing this, Dover, Kohl and Partners devised a plan that acknowledges the economic and place making importance of the waterways while devising infrastructure and design recommendations that would fortify the town for the future.
The conceptual plans and urban design philosophy highlighted within the report indicate two ways in which the town could better respond to threats from flooding and storm surge. One solution suggested was to elevate multiple buildings above a layer of parking. The buildings would be connected via elevated walkways, which would essentially serve as the primary “ground floor” for the community.
One rather novel option, suggested in conjunction with waterfront retail, was devising a series of open walled pavilions. The open walls of the pavilions would allow floodwater to pass through and ideally could be washed and reused after a flooding event. Large, urban markets, such as New Orleans French Market, generally operate under a similar principle, with small restaurant and retail booths nestled under a permanent, structurally reinforced building.
Aside from exemplary building techniques and urban design, there are other ideas espoused, which have great value to cities and towns looking to become more resilient. For example, the town plan calls for “multiple lines of defense” and recommends key changes to both man-made infrastructure, such as levees, and green infrastructure, such as swamps and estuaries.
Some of these solutions, such as water catchment areas within the levee walls and diverting excess freshwater to swamplands, represent a kind of hybrid approach that combines modern engineering techniques with our understanding of natural systems.
Not all of the solutions are complex, however. Some simply involve better site planning, the strategic relocation of structures that are prone to flooding and focusing development in areas with higher elevation and close proximity to city services.
The value of resilience to the study of city planning is that it recognizes that systems, whether they are man-made or environmental, must learn to deal with constant change if they are to thrive and survive. Just as living arrangements and economic conditions in cities are not static, environmental conditions are not a constant either. That is why it is important to make flexibility and adaptability primary goals of local plans and policymaking.
The Resiliency Plan for Jean Lafitte accomplishes these goals through a multi-pronged approach that provides an array of building choices suited to the town’s unique geography and emphasizes the interaction between natural and built systems and how they may be of benefit to each other. That is why the newly created resiliency plan serves as a valuable case study in exemplary planning and deserves mention as a planning document worth of study by other cities.