This project, located in Lafayette, Louisiana, aims to establish a connection among open spaces along Bayou Vermilion in order to enhance its use as a cultural, economic, ecological, and open space amenity. Like many other small communities in Louisiana and elsewhere, Lafayette turned its back on the waterway that facilitated the area’s original settlement. Much of the land along the bayou is privately owned and residential, with public access limited to a few critical points; at which, this project proposes a transit hub, a mixed-use center, and connections to existing public recreation and open spaces. To reinforce these new uses, a trail will connect several destinations by utilizing land on the banks of Bayou Vermilion adjacent to existing residential properties. The intent of this project is to create public access to Lafayette’s historic and scenic Bayou Vermilion, thereby enabling local residents access to the Bayou’s unique cultural, ecological, and open space potential. In addition, this project can provide a model for similar waterfront access for other Louisiana communities that share similar conditions.
In Southern Louisiana, settlement began around the region’s small bayous and waterways because of their commercial capacity as transportation networks. The effects of this phenomenon are recognized throughout the urban history of the region but are less evident in the contemporary design cultures of these communities. Due to the onset of post WWII industrial navigation and advancements in transportation technology, massive transformations have evolved among these smaller Louisiana communities. The waterways that these small cities have settled around have become neglected in terms of planning focus, development, and public appreciation. Lafayette, and its Bayou Vermillion, serves as a worthy case study for this state-wide phenomenon because, while the community has a rich cultural connection to Bayou Vermilion, over time, it has turned its back to its waterway.
This project aims to establish a connection among open spaces along Bayou Vermilion in Lafayette to enhance the waterway’s cultural qualities and take advantage of their capacity to provide environmental awareness, to provide new recreational opportunities, and to increase waterfront access to the public. The city has two critical issues that need addressing: perception and land ownership. Many of the city’s younger citizens do not have an understanding of the waterway’s location, and the older generations perceive this bayou as little more than a drainage canal. The majority of land along the bayou is privately owned and, of that, most is residential so public access has remained limited to a few critical points. Among these critical points, this project proposes to develop three new land use typologies in order to activate this waterfront: a transit hub, a mixed-use urban center, and a recreation and open space connection.
According to Article 456 in the Louisiana Civil Code, land that is between the high-water mark and low-water mark of a navigable waterway is considered the river’s bank, and the bank of a river is subject to public use. Over time, this legal reality has largely been ignored and not enforced; however it means that the banks of Bayou Vermilion, between low-water and high-water marks, can be appropriated for use as a public right-of-way and therefore become a recreation-oriented public corridor. This statute from Louisiana’ Civil Code should neutralize the assumption of implied ownership among those who have built along the bayou’s banks. A boardwalk will serve as a link on the one-mile stretch of the bayou between the open space connection and the mixed-use center with multiple destinations along the route to encourage users of the trail. With new elements such as a sculptural bridge, museum of local culture, active recreation areas, high-density residential units, and an urban waterfront retail corridor, the re-imagined Bayou Vermillion will serve to stimulate the public’s interest, appreciation and use of this small but vital waterway as an extremely versatile amenity rather than as a one-dimensional drainage corridor. The intent of this project is not only to express an idea for how one community could re-activate its waterway but also to create a model for waterfront access for other Louisiana communities that have similar waterway situations.