HOW SHOULD CITIES REBUILD AFTER BEING DEVASTATED BY HURRICANES HARVEY & IRMA
By Edward Hu
Governments and many of Hurricane Harvey and Irma victims will be keen to rebuild their cities in their original image so that their lives can return to the way it used to be. However, this is far from being the best plan for the future where climate change is causing more and more extreme weather events. The focus for the rebuilding in preparation for a future hurricane needs to change. “We are developing in places that aren’t sustainable. We need to start doing things differently” said Sandra Knight, a senior research engineer at the University of Maryland.
The concrete rich city of Houston has suffered severely; the city has a lack of zone planning and thus streets become flooded pools. This resulted in a complete shutdown of functions and daily life in the city. A change that could be implemented in the rebuild process is to make use of the natural floodplains located near the city. Hurricanes and storms can be seen to have become more devastating and resultantly hard engineering techniques such as flood barriers will increasing become obsolete and ineffective. The 15 feet [4.5m] flood wall near Houston’s city centre was easily overcome; flood walls will be an increasingly expensive and impractical method of dealing with higher levels of water. Instead, soft engineering and employment of the natural environment are much more viable options.
In the case of New Orleans, a city also prone to hurricanes and flooding there has been major development in soft engineering. Rain gardens, parks designed to absorb large amounts of water, have been built across the city. Green rooftops have also been encouraged; these are vegetation built on roofs which absorb rainwater and collects some rather than letting it drip onto paved streets. As well as taking on the approach of using natural landscapes and floodplains, cities such as Miami Beach have spent their budget on developing water pumping stations.
Cities have taken many different approaches to prepare for flooding however the most effective way of rebuilding will likely be a mixture of both natural and technological designs. In addition it would be beneficial if flood-prone countries such as the US could have a national plan to address flood risks.