The devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey across southeast Texas is nothing short of surreal.
Images of homes, businesses, hospitals and schools inundated with high water are still playing across TV screens and web browsers for the past week.
In the aftermath of such a disaster, some observers seek to place the blame on human agency, or lack thereof, rather than on a one-in-a-million natural disaster, as experts are describing the storm.
Some observers blame Houston’s emphasis on urban development and lack of zoning regulations for the scope of the destruction, like a Washington Post story writing on the city’s so-called lack of organization:
“(P)art of a hands-off approach to urban planning that may have contributed to catastrophic flooding from Hurricane Harvey and left thousands of residents in harm’s way.”
While Houston underwent extensive development in the last 15 years, other sources assert the blame does not lie in Houston’s deregulated environment.
For instance, earlier in the week during an address, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner scoffed the claim:
“Zoning wouldn’t have changed anything. We would have been a city with zoning that flooded.”
Furthermore, Houston’s urban development laws may be missing the “Z” word, but there are restrictions on how properties can be built are in place, inching laws dictating how large a lot must be, how many feet away from a street a new structure can be placed and even how many parking spaces each new building should have.
The city’s streets are also designed to be spillways in some areas, working to keep water on the road and out of yards.
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As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Many experts say one of the primary causes of the flooding in Houston was a lack of commitment to preventative measures to minimize the damage; however, many also recognize such a dedication may not be a cure all.
One thing’s for sure: Houstonians have a long road to recovery.
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