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Is sprawl to blame (at least partially) for the flooding in Houston?

What’s happening in Houston right now is devastating. Ian Bogost of The Atlantic is calling the flood a “disaster of biblical proportions.” Harvey has unloaded 9 trillion gallons of water.

It is once again reminding us of the importance of resiliency when it comes to our cities.

One emerging argument is that this is an almost inevitable outcome for Houston, brought on by the multiplicative effects of climate change, unfettered urban sprawl, and poor design decisions.

The barriers to development are famously low in Houston, which allows the city to quickly add housing and people. There are many benefits to this. 

But it also means that there has been, among other things, a dramatic increase in the amount of impervious surface.

This matters because impervious surface creates runoff.

According to The Texas Tribune, impervious surface in Harris County (third most populous county in the U.S.) increased by 25% between 1996 and 2011. 

And it replaced things like the below prairie grass (switchgrass), which are highly absorbent as a result of their deep root system. 

But much like climate change, not everyone believes this is to be blamed. 

For more on this, check out The Texas Tribune’s full interactive piece. It’s called “Boomtown, Flood Town” and it’s worth a read.

Image from The Texas Tribune

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