As waters recede and Houston can start to fully take stock of the damage to the city left behind by Harvey, the topic of development is inescapable.
A rift seems to be forming, with those in favor of the current “anything goes” business model for building in Houston on one side and those who say more regulation is needed on the other. ‘Unchecked development’ has become a commonly used phrase in coverage of the flood and its aftermath. Some believe that it played a major role in the extent of the damage, and could again during future storms.
According to the Houston Chronicle, city officials have come out in favor of laying a framework to protect Houston from future catastrophes, but have been vague as to what they might entail or who would foot the bill. Elected Administrator for Harris County Ed Emmet said in an interview that “Hopefully, this will be a wake-up call,” and that Houston needs a “whole new scheme” for the future.
136,000 homes were wrecked in the storm and subsequent flooding, to say nothing of the businesses who had to close their doors. Pretty much everyone agrees they need to be protected, but that would likely involve telling people where they can and can’t build, something that historically hasn’t been done in Houston.
“Houston is a big swamp that sits on the bayous and all the creeks and all the oxbows off the bayou,” Tilman Fertitta, chief executive officer of Houston restaurant chain Landry’s Inc., said. “We just need to be smarter. You don’t need to build homes next to a reservoir.”
Advocates for change claim that, though protecting against a storm like Harvey completely is extremely difficult, regulations can be put in place to make the city build smarter and lessen the likelihood of damage, such as building houses higher and out of high flood risk areas.
Any change to zoning laws that would make them tougher will come up against opposition from builders, and whether a compromise will be reached remains to be seen.