Chicago-area Downpour Reminder that Urban Flooding is Chronic and Costly
This morning, Chicago residents awoke to a stark reminder that the built environment doesn’t always do well in the rain. The two inches that fell overnight caused major problems for commuters, closing two interstate ramps, forcing buses to be rerouted, and causing significant delays for commuters all across the city. Leaving a destructive wake of flooded basements and washed-out streets in its path, urban flooding seems like an exceptional weather event whenever it happens, but a recent report from the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) shows that the problem is both chronic and costly.
CNT’s report, The Prevalence and Cost of Urban Flooding, is the first of its kind to analyze claims data from flood damage and sewer- and drain-backups. One of the key findings was that claims were made across 96 percent of Cook County ZIP codes, including those that contain no federally designated floodplains.
Although urban flooding is such a pervasive problem, it’s an issue that is often hidden in plain sight. CNT is out to change that. Through our Gross Gathering outreach initiative, for example, people have shared powerful stories about their flooding experiences, some of which are captured in this video:
The Gross Gathering is a platform for flood survivors to share their stories and connect with resources that can help prevent future flooding. The inaugural event was held in June 2013 at CNT’s office, and we have since held gatherings in Chicago’s Rogers Park and Chatham neighborhoods, both of which flood frequently when it rains. We also created the Gross Gathering Facebook group as a way for people to continue connecting with support and solutions beyond the physical events.
Not only does flooding take a significant toll emotionally, but the financial cost of urban flooding is staggering as well. Over the past five years, $660 million has been spent in flood claim payouts in Cook County. The average payouts are $3,733 per claim, which is often nowhere near enough to replace everything homeowners lose when rainwater runs into their yards and basements. Through the Gross Gatherings, we have heard countless stories of deluged cars and lost furnaces, couches submerged and washing machines destroyed. And of course, no amount of money could ever replace family photographs and heirlooms stolen by urban flooding.
To make matters worse, a survey that accompanied our research showed that seventy percent of people who suffered flooding damage had experienced it three or more times in the past five years. For the chronically flooded, rainy days often end up as flooding nightmares.
CNT continues to research the cost and effects of urban flooding, both in Cook County and across the nation. The Prevalence and Cost of Urban Flooding illustrates the breadth and severity of the problem in the Chicago area, and days like today remind us what it feels like. We hope that eventually our efforts will leave people with fewer and fewer stories about frantically tossing Christmas ornaments up to drier ground or opening the basement door to see clothes floating at the top of the steps. But first, we need to get through the torrents of today.