How Houston can become stronger after Hurricane Harvey
By Anna Almendrala
Now that hurricanes Harvey and Irma have subsided, cities in Texas and Florida are grappling with public health emergencies in the form of a toxic soup of sewage, poisonous chemicals from Superfund sites and runoff from petrochemical industrial complexes.
It will take months, if not years, to restore things to the way they were. And if officials want to safeguard the health of their citizens before the next natural disaster, they’re going to have to take a generational approach to urban development ― that is, thinking about its effects not just on today’s children, but on their children’s children, experts say.
The silver lining to Houston’s devastation is that the city is now in a position to rebuild, from the ground up, such that its communities are better prepared for natural disasters and catastrophic events. The question is whether the city will seize that opportunity.
Organizations like 100 Resilient Cities are trying to help cities knit together far-flung bureaucracies to imagine a more comprehensive perspective on urban planning. On its website, 100 Resilient Cities offers the example of the construction of a new road. Couldn’t such a road also be a flood barrier, a safe place for the community to gather and a route that more quickly connects people to a health care facility?
One of these cities, Oakland, California, is investing in retrofitting to withstand earthquake damage, and prioritizing “green” infrastructure to create more parks and open spaces meant to help manage storm water. These green spaces, the planners hope, will have the added benefit of improving air and water quality and lowering ambient air temperature ― all things that make a community healthier.