Track Two: Understanding Current and Future Community Well-being


Principle Investigators: Traci Birch, Katie Cherry, Craig Colton, Cecile Guin, Marla Nelson

In order to understand current and future community well-being, we propose engaging communities in five coastal and inland parishes across the Pontchartrain Basin (East Baton Rouge, Livingston, Ascension, St. Bernard, and Plaquemines) in a series of conversations:

  1. Looking back at responses to past flood events and the impact these events have had on community health and well-being (Cherry, Guin, Moles), and

  2. Allowing community members to define future community well-being priorities for coastal and inland communities (Birch, Colten, Nelson).

Developing adaptive capacity and best practices that are responsive to current and future environmental conditions and well-being requires at least three subsets of individuals be included in the conversation: those who stay in coastal communities, those who must migrate, and those who are in receiving communities that may also have been impacted by disasters. These parishes have all been impacted by weather-related and human-made disasters – and are either growing (East Baton Rouge, Livingston, Ascension) or shrinking (St. Bernard, and Plaquemines) as people migrate from the coast.

The research team will conduct a series of interviews, focus groups, and scenario building workshops to actively engage community leaders and members in identifying characteristics of inland and coastal community well-being to prioritize preservation and enhancement. Team proposes starting with focus groups and in-depth interviews of community members to gather information on topics related to social memory pertaining to climate impacts and local culture, place attachment, and current well-being (Cherry, Guin, Moles).

Year 2 will shift focus to future well-being and adaptive capacity, conducting scenario building workshops with community members from coastal and inland communities to highlight local assets that enhance community well-being and adaptive capacity under specific risk scenarios (Birch, Colten, Nelson). This information will be used to inform adaptation best practices for current residents, and identify commonalities between coastal and inland communities for consideration in the event coastal residents migrate inland. 

Research Questions

  1. How successful were previous experiences with disasters?

  2. What needs to be in place to promote social, emotional, and practical coping and well-being?

  3. What level of knowledge do communities have about climate change, severe weather and major environmental disasters?

  4. What community assets exist that are important to maintain and/or rebuild in the event of a disaster?

The information gathered will be synthesized and further developed to:

  1. Create well-being profiles for communities across the inland-coastal system, that consider unique community characteristics as well as commonalities across the region;

  2. Provide new evidence on risk factors that threaten well-being and undermine community health and resilience (these data will illuminate current psychological health and wellness research, and document the dynamic changes in functioning related to prolonged disaster exposures useful to planners and design professionals);

  3. Provide unique comparisons between the three subgroups, which notably expands the understanding of risk and protective factors after multiple disaster exposures;

  4. Create educational and outreach materials for historically underrepresented and under-served populations, and guidelines for future translational work; and

  5. Build a framework for community well-being and resiliency transferable to other regions. This collaborative approach incorporates significant feedback loops with other researchers and community members to produce results that are useful and accessible to all stakeholders.