Challenging the Rush to Rebuild

Justin Gillis outlines some harsh criticisms of disaster response efforts that rebuild without rethinking – and how much it's costing taxpayers across the country.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, some $30 billion will be issued in disaster relief and assistance to help return communities to stable, working, livable condition. Yet the critical moment of a disaster response is not in the rebuilding of a place but the changes it undertakes to ease the blow the next time around.

As Gillis points out, "Since 1979, nearly a dozen hurricanes and large storms have rolled in and knocked down houses, chewed up sewers and water pipes and hurled sand onto the roads." And yet homeowners across the country continue to flock to the shores, rebuilding entire communities just as they were before, invariably at enormous taxpayer expense.

Partly to blame are generous subsidies for flood insurance and new infrastructure – the Stafford Act provides federal dollars for 75 percent of repairs to storm-damaged roads and utilities. Perhaps just as much to blame are attitudes toward disaster planning.

“We’re Americans, damn it,” quips North Carolina Geologist Robert S. Young, capturing the response strategy in many communities. “Retreat is a dirty word.”

Meanwhile, a number of Vermont towns that fortified inadequate culverts after Hurricane Irene last year are still struggling for reimbursement from FEMA.

In some communities, resistance to change is strong, and solutions are scarce. “The best thing that could possibly come out of Sandy is if the political establishment was willing to say, ‘Let’s have a conversation about how we do this differently the next time,’ ” said Young. “We need to identify those areas — in advance — that it no longer makes sense to rebuild.”

Full Story: As Coasts Rebuild and U.S. Pays, Repeatedly, the Critics Ask Why


Book cover of the Guide to Graduate Planning Programs 4th Edition

Thinking about Grad School?

New! 4th Edition of the Planetizen Guide to Graduate Urban Planning Programs just released.
Starting at $24.95

Prepare for the AICP Exam

Join the thousands of students who have utilized the Planetizen AICP* Exam Preparation Class to prepare for the American Planning Association's AICP* exam.
Starting at $209
Book cover of Unsprawl

Unsprawl: Remixing Spaces as Places

Explore visionary, controversial and ultimately successful strategies for building people-centered places.
Starting at $12.95
Book cover of Where Things Are from Near to Far

Where Things Are From Near to Far

This engaging children's book about planning illustrates that "every building has its place."