In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, mounds of sodden building materials lined the streets of Houston and other flooded areas. As residents began the long process of rebuilding, the storm’s unprecedented flooding rekindled a long-running debate in the Houston area over the best way to move forward: rebuild the same way in the same spot, abandon chronically flooded properties to nature or find more flexible, adaptable ways to build in areas at risk of flooding. One alternative strategy involves "wet-proofing" the lower level of buildings (or entire buildings) in risk zones by relocating HVAC equipment. Durable materials like concrete, brick and tiles are key features of this strategy.
A more encompassing approach to resiliency — and a more realistic one — is illustrated by recent Texas A&M graduate Zixu Qiao, who received a competitive and “highly coveted” 2017 Student Honor Award for designing a medium-density development, for an area southeast of Houston that is vulnerable to both flooding and sea level rise. Qiao surveyed resiliency strategies globally and deployed CNT's Green Values Stormwater Toolbox, a National Stormwater Management Calculator, one of many sustainable urban planning tools developed by the Center for Neighborhood Technology.
The final concept includes a generous helping of open space, bioswales and other elements that route floodwaters away from buildings. Wetlands preservation and natural pollution filtration are also important features. One key element that may have influenced the judges: much of the flood control landscaping doubles as recreation and other amenities that add value to the overall development. Smarter, stronger solutions are at hand, and a more sustainable quality of life could be the wave of the future — even in areas facing climate change impacts.