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Pathways to Urban Sustainability: Research and Development on Urban Systems - Summary of a Workshop
percent. Consequently, coastal areas have experienced enormous increases in housing and infrastructure. As he lamented: "Katrina was a horrific event. Yet, the $85 billion in property losses and damages spoke as much to a human miscalculation as it did to a natural disaster.” We have developed in places where we should not have and we have paid a steep price as a result, he warned.
Peacock cited the coastal hazard planning tool kit developed for the Texas coast as an example of how ‘visualization tools’ could be used to convey valuable information to citizens and policy makers alike that could help make urban communities more resilient.
The tool kit, which was funded by the Texas Sea Grant Program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Texas General Land Office, has helped shed light on the development difficulties likely to be faced by policy makers and the public residing along the rapidly developing Texas coastline. The challenge is how to make room for this growth without undermining the coastline’s ecology and the irreplaceable ecological services that it provides.
Perhaps most importantly, the tool kit can be used to help policy makers and the public plan for natural disasters in areas that are prime targets for devastating hurricanes in the short term and relentless sea-level rise in the long term. In such regions as these, efforts to build more resilient communities should be of the highest priority.
Peacock, however, was not optimistic that things were about to change for the better. He noted that historically a predictable series of responses have followed on the heels of natural disasters in the United States. These responses, which have become all too familiar, have more to do with poor decision making than with inadequate technology or even insufficient information.
The emergency response, he stated, begins with an outpouring of heartfelt concern backed by a profusion of resources to aid in the recovery. Yet, from the start, the response is uneven, with wealthier, more politically astute segments of society invariably receiving more assistance. Equally disturbing, as the impact of the disaster fades into memory, old patterns of development return. As a result, many of the same risks and vulnerabilities recur. And, when disaster strikes again (as it inevitably will), the cycle of deadly destruction, generosity and willful forgetfulness plays out once more.
How can a sustainable path to development take hold, Peacock asked, when we continue to repeat the same mistakes? What we really need to do, he asserted, is to focus not on recovery but on “reducing vulnerability and enhancing resilience.” He went on to note that the half-hearted solutions put in place during the recovery tend to be technological and/or “brick and mortar” fixes—for example, sea walls and dikes—and that long-term solutions—for example, prohibiting development in high-risk areas—are invariably eclipsed by short-term economic considerations. He regretted that "environmental preservation and restoration were rarely high on the agenda of the reconstruction projects that follow in the wake of a natural disaster."
A solution to this vicious cycle, Peacock maintained, lies in focusing on resiliency and vulnerability—that is, concentrating on preventative measures. In Florida, for example, only 19 percent of the people live in coastal communities that engage in comprehensive planning. Even more worrisome, less than 30 percent of the state’s coastal residents live in communities where floodplain and storm-water management are integral parts of the political decision making process when it comes to development. "Let's face