Co-Founder of @TheAtlas4Cities. Yes: infrastructure, cities, environment. Also: USMC, real food, women engineers, Rice University. No thanks: running.
Created:Wednesday, January 16, 2019
Updated:Monday, April 8, 2019
Hoping Houston becomes more resilient post-Harvey
While our attention shifts to Hurricane Irma, the Caribbean and much of the Florida Coast, and while wildfires rage out of control in much of the West, our hearts remain firmly planted in Houston. Houston, where Sean was born and raised. Houston, the home of Rice University, our alma mater, and where we first met on Ellory’s second day of Orientation Week. Houston, home to the best food in the United States. Houston, home to much of our immediate and extended family and friends.
Houston is still hurting and we’re still hurting with it. The road to recovery will be long.
As our hearts ache for the city we love, we are nonetheless filled with hope about not just what Houston has shown itself to be, but also about what it could become.
Our feelings after Hurricane Harvey are complicated: a strange combination of grief, relief, pride, guilt, and anger. Like so many Houstonians away from their families during Harvey, we spent most of last week glued to our phones and televisions, horrified, as we watched neighborhoods we love destroyed. Our family was incredibly lucky — everyone is safe — but so many people lost everything, including one of Sean’s aunts, whose house was flooded with 14 feet of water.
Before looking to the future and what we hope it holds for Houston, we give thanks. We give thanks, in no particular order, for:
Emergency responders, official and volunteers, and those who gave their lives helping others to safety
And despite the catastrophic flooding, we give thanks that Harvey wasn’t worse. Because it could have been.
We pray that affected citizens are able to get the emergency relief they need, especially in neighborhoods that are still underwater. Top of mind and deep in our hearts is concern for our most vulnerable neighbors: the homeless, mentally ill, drug addicted, recent and undocumented immigrants, those who have suffered trauma before. Those who truly cannot afford to rebuild. We’re worried about the family pets who have already been or will be abandoned as circumstances force families to make difficult choices, and the lost and stray animals who have nowhere to go.
Moving forward, we hope that the destruction of Hurricane Harvey can lead to positive, comprehensive action to address the greater Houston region’s fatal vulnerability to floods.
And while no amount of planning or preparation could have protected Houston (or any city!) from 50 inches of rainfall, we hope that Harvey is the impetus for action to increase the region’s resilience.
Specifically, we hope that:
Educate themselves about flood risk and how flood events may impact them in the future
Seriously and skeptically question: why is flooding happening, seemingly with more severity and more often?
Understand that, while of course no city can weather 50 inches of rain unscathed, humans and human development patterns have everythingto do with the type of catastrophic flooding that occurred during Harvey
Establish a steely resolve, the kind only seen in Texas, that flooding will plague the region no longer
Conclude that the right approach to increasing the Houston region’s resilience will involve a combination of green (detention basins, coastal restoration, wetlands conservation) and grey (levees, pumps, upgrading Addicks and Barker dams) solutions — that the solution is not to simply build more
Get involved: go to community planning meetings, repeatedly call your elected officials, actively support common sense policies like building codes and buybacks for properties that have suffered repeated losses
At the very least, vote for folks who take the Houston region’s resilience seriously and have committed to action Small Businesses
Remember this maxim: what’s good for business is what’s good for Houston
As a group, appreciate just how much economic and political power they hold
Communicate their flood-related losses — of course from Harvey, but also from less severe, recurring flood events — to elected officials
Educate others, especially elected officials, about how flooding affects the ability to do business in Houston by relaying both direct (e.g. damaged equipment) and indirect (e.g. employees couldn’t get to work, rising insurance prices) costs
State and Local Elected Officials
Show some of that grit Texas is so known for…commit to tackling the Houston region’s problems head-on
Understand that, broadly, there will not be a quick or cheap fix. But also understand that there are key flood mitigation projects ready to go
Listen to the experts who have been working on these issues in Houston for decades. For example, see recommendations from Jim Blackburn (Rice University) about how to prevent another Harvey-like flood here
Commit to making a strategic, region-wide buyback program work
Halt development in precious native prairies and wetlands (which have an incredible natural capacity to absorb rainwater and prevent flooding), especially in northwestern Harris County
Fix Addicks and Barker Reservoirs Federal Government
First, fully fund recovery and rebuilding efforts. Don’t play politics with disasters
Use the best available science to inform rebuilding, including updated floodplain maps
Build upon prior recovery strategies. The Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force spent tremendous time and energy laying out principles and strategies, grounded in best available science, for increasing resilience after natural disasters
Pursue policies and programs that incentivize risk reduction at the state and local level, for example, FEMA’s proposed Disaster Deductible
Finally, once and for all, fix the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)
Looking forward, we’re surprisingly hopeful about the future of Houston.
Because while the kind of comprehensive action we hope for may be unprecedented in Texas, if there’s anything our Nation learned during Harvey…it’s that Texas has got grit, y’all.
This article was written by Ellory Monks (Co-founder of The Atlas). She studied civil/environmental engineering at Rice University in Houston. The article was also written by Sean Monks, who is a captain in the United States Marine Corps, where he works as a judge advocate. He is a proud Houston native and alumnus of Rice University and the University of Houston Law Center.
Views expressed in this article are solely the views of the authors, and in no way reflect the views of the Department of Defense or United States Marine Corps.
Are you in a financial position to help? There are lots of lists floating around about how to help the greater Houston region. See one of those lists via NPR here.