Another day. Just another storm in Houston. Is this what it has come down to? Every year or so another big storm or two, another few hundreds or maybe tens of thousands of houses flooded?  Are we a little more used to this than we should be? But there is no getting used to it for a great many of us.

We don’t seem to have the same ease of living on the Gulf Coast that we once had. Even small storms moving through seem to put a knot in our stomach. Who will be flooded this time? It is hard to get a good night’s rest when the atmosphere gets a little unstable.

There is a disease that seems to have infected our relationship to the land. A literal dis-ease. A lack of ease is exactly the root of the word “disease” and that meaning   accurately describes where we are in relation to flood “control.”  Maybe we are starting to sense that flood control is more of a fool’s errand than we would like to believe. We’ve built to one standard, the hundred-year flood, only to find out that that standard isn’t good enough anymore. Continue Reading »

The Day the Dike Breaks

maeslant barrierMaeslant Barrier, Netherlands. Google Earth, December 2018

The US Army Corps of Engineers has just chosen the Ike Dike as the Tentatively Selected Plan (TSP) for coastal protection on the Upper Texas Gulf Coast. There is controversy over this choice, but all are agreed that “something must be done.”  We have put people and facilities increasingly in harm’s way over the years. Putting something between people and the harm, like an Ike Dike or one of its progenies (the Rice Mid-Bay Dike for example), seems like the most obvious thing to do. Continue Reading »

Midtown square bagby

Midtown Square development on West Gray, Houston. This development doesn’t flood, and it doesn’t contribute to flooding. It is a high-interaction neighborhood that builds social capital. (Google Map)

The impacts of Harvey still have our full attention.  We are all agreed—we don’t want to live through another Harvey.  We want to be so much better prepared for the next one. In that case, we better hope the next big one isn’t coming our way anytime soon.

“Do something!” seems to be the watchword of the day. The question is whether or not we will do the right thing. We are clearly taking some good steps in the right direction, but I fear we may lack the necessary organizing principles to build a Houston that is resilient for the next 100 years and beyond.

I suggest two watchwords that could lay the foundations for a robust resilience: watersheds and walkability. Watersheds are the template upon which we build. We must understand both the limitations and the advantages of our watersheds.  Walkability builds the social capital that provides the glue for strong communities. Both the city we build and the watershed we build it on must be healthy in every way if we are to remain vibrant into the next century. Continue Reading »

Houston has in place a natural flood detention and conveyance system that could handle another Harvey, sitting right here in plain sight. Our bayous, creeks, and streams, and their associated floodplains have carved out, over millennia, a very robust and capacious system. This legacy system did not fail during Harvey. We failed, over the years, because we put so many people in harms way. In fact, over 40% of all FEMA-designated floodplains in Harris County have been developed to one degree or another, with more than 500,000 homes and apartments in these hazardous zones. Few floodplains within the beltway are undeveloped.

[also at Gray Matters]

Continue Reading »

A recent talk given to the Houston chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas.