CAll for Ideas Lens: Environment

Environment and Culture in New Orleans

By Robert “Bob” C. Tannen


Perspectives vary greatly when New Orleanians discuss what their city might look like in the next 300 years. I utilize interdisciplinary and collaborative approaches when considering our distant evolutionary past and future, within both regional and global contexts. My vision for New Orleans is optimistic, yet recognizes the extreme lack of equitable and smart growth, as well as a lack of respect for cultural identity and diversity across the region.

An example of that unique approach is my recent comparative visual study on relative land elevations and floodways of the 67 coastal counties defining the boundaries of the Gulf of Mexico. If examined through the context of long term (300+ years, past and future), it becomes apparent that climate change, sea level rise and subsidence have threatened, and will continue to threaten, the possibility of equitable opportunities, preservation of cultural identities, celebrating diversity, and common sense smart growth. 

The low lying elevations house majority of the population, built infrastructure and major investments—yet these low lying areas are at the greatest risk of future survival. Another example of my interdisciplinary work was the exhibit in which every piece incorporated the color Brown—in many ways, a universal color of our changing visual and social environment through Earth, Forests, Waste, and Skin. Other examples include my current work where I’ve decided to work under the concept of Stealth, Blackness, or Invisibility in order to represent the historical strategies of differentiation impacting equity, cultural identity, diversity, and smart growth—the subjects of futureNOLA.


Our future rests in the hands of decision makers—you, me, us and them. The next 70+ years will be difficult to forecast considering how drastically our world has changed in the last 70 years. Our future is uncertain and it is apparent that the concepts which make New Orleans so unique—our cultural identity, robust diversity, and natural resources -- are threatened by the reality of climate change. Not only are these cherished qualities at risk, but the physical locations that house and nurture cultural fuel are also at risk. If we want New Orleans to last for the next 300 years, we will need to invest in equitable and smart growth concepts, as well as innovative approaches to climate change adaptation, restoration, conservation and population migration management.


Artist Robert Tannen, 2013 .jpg

Artist Robert Tannen, 2013. Photograph by Eliza Morse/

Robert C. Tannen has studied and made art for more than 70 years while working as an instructor at Pratt Institute, Franconia College, and Tulane University School of Architecture, and as a regional planner for research and development, architectural, and civil engineering firms, and exhibiting as a multidisciplinary artist. His major interest is the integration and collaboration of visual art, environmental science, architecture, and engineering.