Planetizen - Urban Planning News, Jobs, and Education

When the Floodwaters Receded in Ellicott City

Ellicott City, Maryland, a suburb located 12-miles from Baltimore with a historic Main Street that has experienced catastrophic flooding twice since 2016, offers a case study of the complementary effects of sprawl and climate change.
November 13, 2019, 9am PST | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
Share Tweet LinkedIn Email Comments
Maryland GovPics

Two national feature stories explore the sage of Ellicott City, a Maryland suburb that has on several occasions been made into a poster child for the need to prepare for climate change, extreme weather, and the failures of past planning.

Rebecca Hersher and Ryan Kellman report for an interactive feature, published by NPR, with testimonials, maps, and harrowing videos of stormwaters repeatedly flooding down the city's historic Main Street, destroying property and taking lives.

After floods in 2016 and 2018, county officials decided to create a new stormwater plan that would require removing ten buildings on Main Street to make room for floodwaters.

"The original plan, calling for 10 buildings to be removed, would reduce the water level to about 5 feet if a similar flood happened again," according to the article. Eight feet of water had flooded Main Street in 2016.

The idea brought serious blowback on social media and in the town, and the city went back to the drawing board. 

"On May 13, 2019, the county announced the final flood plan for Old Ellicott City. It will spend at least $113 million to tear down four buildings on lower Main Street and bore one tunnel," report Hesher and Kellman.

In a separate article by Amy Plitt, published by Curbed, the story focuses a little more on the flooding as a consequence of sprawl and climate change.

First, there's the effect of sprawl in the mix of factors that created the terrible scenes on Main Street in Ellicott City in 2016 and again in 2018:

The historic center of Ellicott City was clobbered, in part, because of the suburban developments that sprung up around the town after 1960. Farmland and forests were replaced with housing, driveways, and big-box shopping centers with hundreds of parking spaces, creating geographical conditions that exacerbate the impacts of weather events like severe storms. That suburban sprawl is, on a larger scale, contributing to climate change—and there are some who think Ellicott City needs to do more to curb it.

Then there's a fact that is also true of many other cities in the United States: there's just more rain.

According to the National Climate Assessment, 'heavy rainfall events have increased' in the Northeast—which the assessment defines as the area spanning from Maryland to Maine—more than in any other region in the country. "The amount of rain that falls during these events increased by 70 percent between 1958 and 2010."

Full Story:
Published on Thursday, November 7, 2019 in NPR
Share Tweet LinkedIn Email