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Seeds of Innovation:
Resilient Design Competition

A dozen, white commercial fishing boats docked on a Louisiana marsh coastline, in Plaquemines Parish, as the brackish, green freshwater from the bayou crashes into the grassy shore.

Help us create a floating planter box for indigenous communities in Louisiana impacted by environmental injustice.

Winnrs

Top Designs

1st Place

Team Larix Underground

Baltimore, Maryland

Members:
Zoe Roane- Hopkins
Benjamin Chronister

Alligator Island adapts to the brackish waters. The geometric shape of the planter maximizes rooting zone area while displacing plenty of water to keep its top high above the waterline. Extended feet on either end of the planter displace additional water, increasing buoyancy and stability. A weighted bottom further improves stability by lowering the planter’s center of gravity. Outwardly-angled walls and a lip around the edge direct incoming waves away from growing plants. Multi-purpose mooring holes in the lip allow planters to be linked together, anchored to a dock or a fixed point on shore, or towed with a motor boat in during an evacuation. The hydrodynamic, angular body reduces drag while towing. 

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2nd Place

Team Archipelagrow

New Orleans, LA & New York City, NY

Members:
Page Comeaux
Rachel Lefevre

Archipelagrow makes the most of the space it inhabits. The planter’s shape provides stability while afloat, encourages interaction from multiple sides, and suggests aggregation into a larger community garden configuration, which has the potential to act as a breakwater that works against coastal erosion. Its dynamic cross-section creates a variety of conditions for the cultivation of both sustenance crops and medicinal plants, allowing communities to sow the seeds of their own resiliency.

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3rd Place

Lean Green Floating Machine

New Orleans, LA & Salt Lake City, UT

Members:
Ray Fontaine
John Coyle
Hannah Trimble

The design achieves stability through the catamaran style paired hull system, with flotation inspiration from the barges on the Mississippi River. These modules can be connected repeatedly to create a floating farm, using the handles as attachment points designed for movement. To address saltwater intrusion we developed a tall form that floats above the waterline, and a water-tight lid to protect plants during storms and transport. A water catchment chamber allows water to drain from the soil, where an open spigot can be used to recycle the water, and a closed spigot prevents salt water intrusion.

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About The Competition

The Grand Bayou Village 

Grand Bayou Village is one of the most remote Native American communities in the country.  Located in the southern reaches of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. It is one of the rare tribal communities still accessible only by boat. Historically they are linked to the Atakapa-Ishak/Chawasha.  Louisiana is home to a multitude of  Native American communities, the majority of tribes being located on the coast and in the marsh of this beautiful ecosystem. Grand Bayou Village is one such community; unique, diverse, passionate about their traditions and way of life, and a people of great heart.

Pictured from left: Tribe Elders and historians, Carmalita Sylve and  Rosina Philippe

 Two elder women of the Atakapa-Ishak and Chawasha tribe, Carmalita Sylve and Rosina Philippe, smile while standing in front of the steel-blue, colored marsh of their homeland.
A green, stilted home, priding an American Flag, rests on a wooden dock on the Plaquemine Parish Grand Bayou waterway with an empty field of tall, bright-green spike grass in the backyard.

Historically, the Grand Bayou tribe has always been a self-sustaining tribe, only reaping from their land what they needed to survive. However, climate change and industrialization has rendered their once-bountiful resources unusable or simply sunken underwater. 

 

Although many have been forced out of their homes due to industrialization, 14 homes still remain on the land, and 400 members still remain in the tribe. The tribe has no intention of leaving, and instead has partnered up with sister tribes to fight for their rights to healthy land and water.

Want to learn  more?

Learn more about the Grand Bayou Village and details about their needs for a floating planter box.

Satellite map image of the Louisiana South East Gulf South region, with two red stars marking the locations of both New Orleans and Grand Bayou, showing the cities close proximity.

The Problem

For thousands of years, the Mississippi River deposited sediment along its banks as it made its way seaward to the Gulf of Mexico. This mud accumulated to form a natural levee, just above sea level, that was replenished with sediment every time the river flooded over. Throughout the 1800s, engineering efforts to drain the swamps, dry the soil, and keep the water out of communities transformed this soft, wet landscape with levees, canals, and flood-walls. 

While the infrastructure that keeps water out protects riverside communities from short-term flooding, in the long run this combative strategy exposes communities to greater risks. By diverting runoff and preventing the river from overtopping, groundwater is depleted and soil dries out allowing communities to slowly sink.

 

Subsidence and land loss by human action, in combination with sea level rise and climate change, has shrunk Louisiana by over 2,000 square miles since 1932. 

In Louisiana the lowest-lying communities tend to be majority BIPOC whose neighborhoods have experienced historic disinvestment in social support. Flooding, therefore, compounds existing socioeconomic inequalities. 

 

In coastal communities, food sovereignty and access to fresh foods are much harder to attain due to saltwater intrusion and inconsistency with rising water levels. Brought on and exasperated by petrochemical and fossil fuel industries, communities are now left with unhealthy marsh lands, and unusable soil and water. 

What is river divergence?

To combat the man made issues of land loss, subsidence, and sinking, a new approach has been created: River Divergence. This will allow the Mississippi River to flood the marshlands outside of the levee system, bringing with the floodwaters sediment to rebuilt the sinking land. 

Although this will bring long term benefits, it will still flood communities such as the Grand Bayou Village.

The Challenge

Design a floating planter box.

 

The floating planter boxes should support the Grand Bayou Tribe members to grow fresh produce and medicinal plants in a coastal setting. Great designs are  people-centric and meets their needs through function and style. Here are some things that the Grand Bayou Tribe is looking for:

 A white, large commercial shrimping boat glides through Plaquemines Parish’s Grand Bayou clear marsh waterway and hangs a turquoise shrimping net from the back of the boat about to be lowered into the water for bait.

Food safety:

Most crucially, the plants grown have to be edible. Food safety should inform decisions on material choice, water storage and filtration mechanisms, and contamination prevention.  

Project Goals

Resilience:

 

Living on the water involves living with environmental extremities, from flooding, tidal changes, rainfall, saltwater encroachment, heat, pollution, and contamination. The planter box should be able to withstand these stressors and mitigate their impacts on the plants’ growth.

Functionality:

 

Intuitive, easy-to-assemble planter boxes are ideal to promote community adoption. Not all residents are familiar with gardening, therefore user friendliness and simple designs will go a long way in promoting long-term use.  

Sustainability:

 

Environmental, economical, and social sustainability are important to consider in relation to manufacturing, costs, replicability, adaptability, and functionality.

Community:

 

The Grand Bayou Tribe is located in one of the most remote parts of the United States, accessible only by boat and with limited infrastructure that connects houses. Gardening collaboratively is the key to success, as it takes consistent engagement beyond the capacities of one person to tend to the everyday problems that may arise. The planter boxes should be designed to overcome the connectivity barriers that are in place to bring people together. 

1st Place

$3,000

2nd Place

$1,500

3rd Place

$1,000

winning teams will work with Green Theory to manufacture and install their designs in the Grand Bayou Village

winning teams will also be featured on Cicada Radio's River Runs Backwards podcast

Meet The Judges

Logo for Water Flows Forward Partner, The Mississippi River Delta Network, linking back to their website.
Logo for Water Flows Forward Partner, Cicada Radio, linking back to their website.

Our Partners

Logo for Water Flows Forward Partner, Green Theory, linking back to their website.
 Logo for Water Flows Forward Partner, National Wildlife Federation, linking back to their website.
Logo for Water Flows Forward Partner, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, linking back to their website.
Logo for Water Flows Forward Partner, American Society of Landscape Architects  of Louisiana, linking back to their website.
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