An environmental lawyer says Houston is at a “turning point in its history” after Harvey

Cars remain stranded along a flooded section of Interstate 45 after heavy rains overnight in Houston, Tuesday, May 26, 2015. Several major highways are closed in the Houston area due to high water. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

An attorney for environmental causes told the British newspaper The Guardian the recovery process after Hurricane Harvey placed Houston at a “turning point in its history.”

Jim Blackburn, who also serves as the co-director of Rice University’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disaster Center (SSPEED), said the storm is forcing the city to face some tough choices.

“I think (Houston) could be on the forefront of the resilience movement of the 21st century and redefining how cities deal with these severe storm events, which are becoming much more commonplace,” Blackburn said in an interview.

He further said, the other choice is “we do nothing and, frankly, begin to see the (city’s) economic decline.”

RELATED: U. of Houston to Lead Gulf Coast Hurricane Research Institute

Several groups around the city are reportedly examining ways to build “resilience technology” meant to help Houston recover from floods quicker and with less loss of life and property.

Experts in the field say the floods from Harvey, as well as the Tax Day Flood of 2016 and the Memorial Day Flood of 2015, are influencing city planners, business leaders and environmental groups to view catastrophic floods, not as weather anomalies, but, rather, as the price of living in Houston.

Anne Olson, who serves as president of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, for example, said her group built Buffalo Bayou Park in 2015 both as a recreational facility and a watershed.

“We know it’s in a floodway, so we planned it knowing that it would be underwater,” she said in an interview with The Guardian. “Houston has a short memory and they’re used to so many floods. I’m hoping that there is a strategic plan in place, a vision.”

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Architect and entrepreneur Tory Gattis told the newspaper resilience engineering could be a vital part of attracting investment and redevelopment to Houston, especially in light of the damage caused by three major floods in less than three years.

“There are three great forward-looking investments this city made in its history: the ship channel, the Texas Medical Center and Nasa. They helped shape this city. I think the fourth one is going to be this resilience infrastructure after Harvey,” he said in an interview. “If we don’t do it, then we are at risk – will people invest here?”

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