A Louisiana Coastal Atlas: Resources, Economies, and Demographics

Three years

The Challenge

Although tropical storms loom large in Louisiana’s history and in dictating population shifts over time, it really only tells a small portion of the state’s story. A more complete picture of how, when, and where Louisiana residents have moved was needed, not just for the sake of history, but also to better inform the future

The Approach

Using U.S. Census data and other archival data sources and government records, the author Scott Hemmerling, director of the Institute’s Human Dimensions, created a collection of telling maps that allow a reader to quickly glance at changing conditions that show how Louisiana’s population has shifted over the decades.  This work highlights in a graphical way how communities have responded to multiple stressors occurring over both short and long timescales.   

Although it’s easy to assume that population shift primarily follow disasters like hurricanes displacing residents from coastal communities, the picture it much more complex. Other social and economic factors, such as the changing density of farming, fishing, and forestry to the changing landscape of oil and gas exploration, have at times proven to be more significant drivers of socioeconomic and demographic change than coastal storm events.

For example, in the section dedicated to population changes, the atlas maps tell a varied story starting with urbanization in the 1950s, a trend seen across the southern United States as people left rural areas for the economic opportunity of the cities. In the 1960s, the maps show a large increase in population concentrated in the central western part of the state. That population boom could be a mystery until you realize that the military decided that the area around Fort Polk closely resembled Vietnam and as a result was a favored training station for troops being sent overseas.

The Louisiana Coastal Atlas presents an unprecedented look at the changes Louisiana has seen during the 20th and 21st centuries, culminating with an examination of coastal restoration and the shift to a more resilient, holistic planning framework for Louisiana. . Through this lens, planners can look toward the future as coastal communities grapple with making their communities and businesses more resilient.