Here’s the Smartest Way for Cities to Rebuild After a Flood

Sourced from Fast Company

A year and a half after Hurricane Harvey flooded hundreds of thousands of homes in Houston, the local county government is still buying out flooded properties from some residents. It’s a common process after floods: FEMA provides money to buy the houses at market rate, some homeowners volunteer to sell, and the homes are demolished because it’s very likely that they’ll flood again.

It often happens in a haphazard way because of limited funds and some people’s unwillingness to sell, leaving a checkerboard of vacant lots surrounded by houses that are still standing. A new study explains how it could happen more strategically, by demolishing homes in groups to leave larger open areas. In a city like Houston, that could begin to address a bigger design problem: As the city sprawls and buildings and pavement cover more of what was originally a wetland, there’s little green space left to absorb rain in a heavy storm.

“In Houston, you’re looking at a city whose entire floodplain map has changed,” says Laura Huffman, regional state director of the Nature Conservancy’s Texas chapter, which partnered with researchers from Texas A&M on the study. “Properties that we thought would flood every 100 years are now flooding every 25 or 30 years. As our big cities get denser, combined with climate change, we’re going to see more and more of this kind of thing happening–and how we recover, I think, is determinative of whether or not you’re recovering to become resilient, or whether or not you’re recovering to experience the same thing the next time.”

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