Coastal Rundown: The 2014 Society Of Environmental Journalists Conference

Sep 11, 2014

A sketch of a 9th Ward house by Francesca Lyman, Seattle journalist, sketch artist and Society of Environmental Journalists Conference attendee.
Credit Francesca Lyman

The 24th Annual Society of Environmental Journalists conference took place in New Orleans last week, bringing to town a few hundred environmental reporters, advocates, scientists, engineers, politicians and more.

Participants got out of the conference rooms to see the levees, bayous, marshes, sinkholes, refineries and rivers that all contribute to the complex region that is Louisiana’s Gulf coast.

The theme of the get together was Risk and Resilience, a nod to the difficult last decade for Louisiana’s coastal areas, which have weathered devastating hurricanes and the worst oil spill in US history. A lot of the conference was about trying to define these words. What does "resilience" mean?

MEET: Roger Mark De Souza:

Roger-Mark De Souza
Credit New Security Beat / Woodrow Wilson Center

Roger Mark De Souza is the Director of Population, Environmental Security and Resilience at the Woodrow Wilson Center located in Washington, D.C. At a panel during the conference, De Souza described the term "resilience" as squishy. A follow up was required:

“I think it’s squishy to the degree that it is used so often now, and it is sometimes considered to be a catch-all phrase for anything related to climate or the environment or vulnerability or people’s ability to adapt. So folks are a little tired of hearing the term, because they’re not quite sure how it’s defined and what it really means in terms of making a difference to people’s lives.”

De Souza spoke on a panel at the conference called Risky Cities and Resilient Communities. The discussion touched on climate change, population dynamics and migration on a global level.

Hear De Souza’s thoughts on the Louisiana Coast:

TOUR: “The Long Road Home: Community Resilience, Adaptations and Legacies from America’s Biggest Rebuild.”

There were nine issue-oriented coastal tours to spend the day on. The coastal team took the tour called “The Long Road Home: Community Resilience, Adaptations and Legacies from America’s Biggest Rebuild.”

THE CITY: The first stop was in the Lower 9th Ward. David Lessinger was there to meet the group. Lessinger is the Director of Planning and Strategy for the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, a city agency that helps with issues related to urban renewal. With the Make It Right Homes as a backdrop, Lessinger talked about the work that’s gone into helping families come back to neighborhoods like the Lower 9th, and what will help make areas that were hardest hit by Katrina more resilient in the future.

David Lessinger, the Director of Planning and Strategy for the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority.
Credit Laine Kaplan-Levenson / WWNO

THE ORGANIZER: Moving from the 9th Ward into Holy Cross, environmental organizer and Sierra Club member Darryl Malek Wiley jumped up on the levee to share a few facts about the river, Herbert Hoover and the only two steamboat houses in the world:

A sketch of Darryl Malek-Wiley by Francesca Lyman, Seattle journalist, sketch artist and Society of Environmental Journalists Conference attendee.
Credit Francesca Lyman

   

THE FARM: The bus then continued on past Chalmette and entered New Orleans East to visit the VEGGI farmers cooperative. VEGGI aims to increase food access and promote sustainable agriculture in the East, an area that left without basic resources like food and health care after Katrina. Project Manager Daniel Nguyen filled the group in on some of these struggles:

A farmer at the VEGGI co-op in New Orleans East.
Credit Laine Kaplan-Levenson / WWNO
David Waggonner standing over Bayou St. John at the border of Gentilly and Lakeview.
Credit Laine Kaplan-Levenson / WWNO

THE ARCHITECT: While David Nguyen is focused on getting New Orleans East residents involved in creating resilience for their specific community, David Waggonner is trying to get the entirety of New Orleans to view the city in a new way. As an architect, Waggoner’s been instrumental in pushing a plan that will refashion New Orleans as a city that incorporates water, instead of a city that simply tries to keep water out.

THE BIG GUNS: Interior Secretary Sally Jewell came down from DC to visit a few state funded coastal restoration projects. Coastal Reporter Jesse Hardman asked Jewell her thoughts about Louisiana’s coast, and her national goals for the environment.

THE WHOLE SHOW: Listen to our Coastal Desk takeover of All Things New Orleans here:

Support for coastal reporting on WWNO comes from the Walton Family Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation and the Kabacoff Family Foundation.