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What are Sponge Cities And How Can They Help High-Risk Flood Zones?

It doesn’t matter where in the country we live, we’ve all seen news footage of entire neighborhoods submerged in water after a natural disaster. Whether it’s a hurricane that caused storm surges, or nonstop rains that overflowed lakes and rivers; or rains that just won’t stop for days… floods are a surefire way for disaster.

Those who lose their homes file their claims with their flood insurance carriers… only to rebuild in the same exact area. But why do that? If it already happened in a high-risk flood zone, it will probably happen again. Isn’t rebuilding in the same spot an exercise in futility?

Or what about people who’ve never experienced a flood, yet choose to purchase waterfront properties. In Florida alone, it is estimated that by 2050, between $15 billion and $36 billion of coastal properties will face flood damage due to rising sea levels. New York developers are rebuilding in areas that were flooded during hurricane Sandy.

It’s not as simple as it may seem.

            The reality is that this is not a matter of a couple of isolated homes. We’re talking about entire cities. Such is the case with Houston, one of our nation’s largest urban areas. Harvey was the most recent scare, but since the new millennium started (barely 17 years ago), the city has experienced three massive floods (tropical storm Allison in 2001, hurricane Ike in 2008, and hurricane Harvey in 2017).

Is there a way to mitigate damages?

One of the reasons urban areas get flooded is because everything is covered in asphalt and water has nowhere to go. Because of this reason, some cities have become creative implementing solutions in hopes of faring better in the future.

For example, China’s sponge cities program aims to reuse at least 70% of rain water. Thirty of their cities are installing rooftop gardens, permeable roads and sidewalks, wetlands, and bio swales. This type of innovation could also help cities that experience droughts, such as Los Angeles and other of California’s major cities.

It is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Each of China’s 30 cities that are involved in the sponge cities program customize designs to fit their specific region’s needs.

With the string of mega storms 2017 brought in its wake, and the lessons learned after Hurricanes Katrina in New Orleans and Sandy in the northeast, it’s time to think outside the box. If you live in a high-risk flood zone, it looks like it’s time to contact your representatives in Congress. Because cleaning up this mess without making actual changes will only guarantee another disaster.


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