Houston: Of grasslands and parking lots

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot
— Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi

So, Houston had been warned, apparently. But not soon enough.

Officials were given a study in 2016 that said a big hurricane, like Harvey, could cause the sort of flooding we’ve seen there in the past week or so. But officials dismissed the study, a CBC report is saying.

Regardless, what could they have done about it in 2016, anyway?

It was too late.

The real problem was that developers had paved over grasslands that used to allow drainage in “almost supernatural quantities,” the report says. Those grasslands were the buffer for a city that “was founded on a swamp in the 1830s . . .  built low and flat along coastal bayous, and has always struggled with flooding.”

But there was a natural buffer that kept the worst at bay: Prairie grasslands, which absorbed water in almost supernatural quantities. The problem is Houston has spent decades paving over those grasslands and building strip malls.

It’s a wonder the major flooding witnessed this week didn’t happen before.

The same can be said for areas in Quebec that were flooded last spring. Homes were built in flood plains that had been paved over.

I don’t doubt that climate change is partially responsible for some of the flooding we’ve been witnessing in parts of the world. But urban planners and developers should take the blame for the misery so many people are experiencing now in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and the like. They blew it: they put lives at risk by building in areas that should have been left in their natural state.

What lessons might be learned from Houston and Quebec, and India — now being flooded in the annual monsoon season?

Well, we know that there will be more of the same in communities built in similar locations. Maybe officials in those areas will try to take some precautionary action.

And maybe people won’t build in grasslands and wetlands anymore.

But expect more of the same, perhaps even in Houston again.

— Jillian

Photo: Parking lot in Houston during Hurricane Harvey. Credit: R. Crap Mariner/Wikimedia Commons

6 thoughts on “Houston: Of grasslands and parking lots

  1. A flood like this was predicted almost 100 years ago. But Houston, until just a few years ago, had no zoning laws. If you owned the land, you could build anything on it that you wanted. There were private houses next-door to tall office buildings. You could buy a lot on the edge of town to build your dream home only to have a chemical warehouse built next-door a year later.

    I grew up on the western edge of Houston. Katy and Addicks were separate towns miles past the city limit. Today they are just suburbs. I would ride my horse on the Addicks and Barker reservoirs, and only saw a few farms along the way. I never saw more than a trickle of a creek inside them.

    This was simply a man-made disaster.


  2. “… But urban planners and developers should take the blame for the misery so many people are experiencing now in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and the like.”
    Jillian, please do not slag my profession and I won’t slag yours. Urban planners advise, developers and (especially) politicians make the decisions. You can probably see the results in your own neighbourhood.


    1. Politics rules. Because that’s what we ARE. Then again, there are the sociopaths + psychos. In the end, Mother Earth will decide whether you are among the living or the dead %P


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