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Better design thinking to battle floods

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While the devastation brought by Hurricane Harvey grabbed international attention, other U.S. cities began to feel the pangs of nervousness as many of them are becoming more vulnerable to fiercer storms. In fact, New York City is already reviewing its plans for a massive rainstorm as the existing infrastructure cannot handle more than 1.75 inches of rainfall per hour.

High and fast water rising in Bayou River with downtown Houston in background under cloud blue sky. Heavy rains from Hurricane Harvey caused many flooded areas in greater Houston area.

In the U.S., the National Climate Assessment has observed above-average rainfall since 1991 with the greatest increase in the Northeast, Midwest and upper Great Plains regions, which have seen a rise of over 30 percent compared to pre-1960 levels.

Going by recent reports, floods cause greater property damage and more deaths than tornadoes or hurricanes. And Houston’s flood was truly a disaster of proportions: the sky unloaded nine trillion gallons of water on the city within two days!

With cities continuing to grow upwards and outwards, the effects of heavy rainfall been compounded. “The more impermeable surfaces you have, the more you obstruct natural runoff,” says Franz Jenowein, JLL’s Director of Global Sustainability Research. “This translates to greater potential for excess water to negatively affect cities.”

It is equally a design problem as much as it is climate change. In the face of such natural calamities, better urban planning and city design can come to the rescue.

Build to suit?

Urbanization has been blamed for many modern day environmental disasters. However, there can be an exception. “Urbanization can be a problem—but it can also offer solutions,” says Jenowein, citing Singapore as a case in point.… Read More