Center for Progressive Reform

Gulf Coast Adaptation to Climate Change

Engaging Vulnerable Communities

A common refrain in New Orleans is that water flows away from money. From the Crescent City down through the bayou, the communities most vulnerable to floodwaters suffer that vulnerability not simply because of geography and topography, but because of multiple social vulnerabilities. As policymakers in Louisiana implementing the Coastal Master Plan begin to plan for a future of rising seas and sinking land—indeed, as policymakers throughout the region grapple with climate change adaptation—they must do so in a way that deliberately and effectively engages vulnerable communities in the planning process.

While efforts to slow and prevent climate change are vital, another important avenue for communities and policymakers is adaptation to what can no longer be prevented. With that in mind, a new CPR paper explores a number of community-level strategies for adaptation, with a special focus on how those strategies are designed to ensure the individuals and communities they are meant to protect have a say in their design and implementation.

Rather than focusing on large-scale infrastructure projects like dam- and levee-construction, the paper identifies approaches collectively described as “nonstructural adaptation” — individual- and community-level initiatives like buying out and relocating communities, elevating structures, revising zoning laws, flood-proofing homes, conducting pre-disaster planning and more.

Essential to the effort, write co-authors Carmen Gonzalez, Alice Kaswan, Robert Verchick, Yee Huang, Shawn Bowen, and Nowal Jamhour, is empowering communities, particularly ones that are already vulnerable for social and economic reasons, by ensuring that they are part of the planning process.

“Including residents and grassroots advocates in the planning and development process will help ensure that the programs reach all communities, including those most in need” co-author and CPR President Robert Verchick observed in releasing the paper. "In order for any approach to be successful, local, state, and federal leaders must also make funding a high priority.”

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