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