Rebuilding by Design, This Time in Houston

History shows that there's more than one way to control flooding, but the best ideas are also urban amenities.
November 11, 2017, 1pm PST | Katharine Jose
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Silvio Ligutti

After Hurricane Harvey's destruction, but before money for rebuilding pours in, Jose Solis takes a page in the Houston Chronicle to consider how two cities responded to major floods in the fairly distant past.

"The histories of San Antonio and Los Angeles," Solis writes, "provide strong arguments for why design should play an essential role in developing new infrastructure and a cautionary tale for what happens when it is ignored."

Both Los Angeles and San Antonio experienced major flooding in the 1920s and '30s that brought a great deal of federal funding for major infrastructure to prevent future losses. Los Angeles, using a strategy typical of both the urbanism of the era and of the city itself, buried the Los Angeles River, replacing it with an effective but joyless concrete channel; San Antonio built Riverwalk, which works as a flood control device but also as an amenity for residents and a huge tourist draw.

History has been much kinder to Riverwalk, and Los Angeles is preparing to spend a great deal of money to remake the LA River into something more like it. (Houston's neighbor, New Orleans, also embraced the idea of amenity-as-flood-control after its own catastrophes.)

Solis praises New York City's post-Sandy Rebuild by Design competition as something that "evolved into a broader initiative for rebuilding cities to be more resilient" and suggests that Houston initiate something similar.

"Rebuild by Design," Solis continues, "provides a blueprint for how Houston can attract leading thinkers to develop solutions that will not only protect us during future floods, but let people enjoy living here for all the times between."

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Published on Wednesday, November 1, 2017 in Houston Chronicle
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