Rebuild versus Relocate

imagesandyUpon all the wrath meted out by Hurricane Sandy and with billions of dollars expected to be the cost of recovery, decision makers insist on building back in the same areas that suffered the biggest blows. They are convinced that they can build “better” and develop “climate resistant” infrastructure. These concepts are futile since they assume that the worst has past. Meanwhile, the full potential of the earth’s destructive potential hasn’t materialized. They also assume that the most recent phenomenon on record will be the measure by which these concepts are applied.

According to a piece from the World Resources Institute, damages have averaged a hefty $34 billion annually over the past three decades. The costs will only increase as weather patterns change and deadly storms increase in frequency and intensity. Eventually, the cash won’t be able to compete with grand scale catastrophe. In his appeal for federal aid, the governor of New York has pointed out that the value of the damage from this storm far outweighs the value of Katrina and therefore must be rebuilt, this time better and stronger.

After Katrina, there was no urgency among the coastal cities and states to evaluate and respond to their vulnerabilities to extreme weather. If Sandy posed a greater threat than Katrina, then what rules out the possibility that another one can come along and be even stronger than Sandy? In that case, the attitude of build bigger and stronger deserves a challenge from modified zoning policies and minimum, environmentally synced resistance. Building specifications may be upgraded to withstand a stronger wind but if the rating is say,100 mph and the next “hurri’easter” exceeds that, then you’re back where you started. It’s time that rezoning and moving out of harm’s way are considered. Living on the coast is a personal choice, facilitated by zoning laws, that allow developers to build in places that they know are subject to major damage as a result of major exposure to coastal storms. Planning and zoning polices, rather than or in addition to, increased spending on weather resistant building material, need to recognize the risks to developed coastal property and adjust accordingly to effectively reduce damage, saving lives and property.

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