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RAFI • Planning • Architecture • Urban Design

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May 1, 2018

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Doing the Right Thing – Right

October 26, 2017

 

Global warming is real.  Climate change is here.  What’s worse, it’s escalating faster and more dramatically than climate scientists ever anticipated.  At the time of this report there are major forest fires out of control in 10 western states and more tropical storms and hurricanes are developing in the South Atlantic Ocean.  

If there is a lesson for this nation to be learned from hurricanes Irma, Harvey, Sandy and Katrina, it is, we can no longer keep doing the wrong things by ignoring nature and allowing poor planning and zoning to continue making matters worse.  Life today is entirely different than yesterday; and the differences tomorrow will be even greater.  What we ignore now will require more time and more money to repair when the next crisis occurs.

 As a nation, we can no longer afford to continuously patch outdated and ineffective infrastructure.  We can’t continue paving over open urban spaces and drainage channels in order to increase urban density and grow an even larger urban population.  And, accordingly, we can’t allow corporate America to keep polluting nature, doing the wrong things the ways corporations have always been allowed – for the sole sake of increasing profits and making executives millionaires.

 

The issues we currently face are not just with weather events impacting large cities along our coastal areas that require disaster aid over and over again, either.  Similar situations exist within our mountain ranges where the forest industry has over-cut the land and left it to erode – without rehabilitating the terrain properly.  Our forests today need to be cleaned-up, the terrain repaired and re-seeded with natural grasses; new tree seedlings need to be planted to halt the invasion of non-native species that accelerates destructive transformations. Deadwood that remains as waste scattered throughout the forests is food for insect infestations that produce kindling for future forest fires – that cost this nation billions of dollars each year to fight and extinguish.
   
In other areas, mining extractions in our mountain regions leave terrain and retention ponds saturated with heavy metals including uranium, arsenic and other hazardous wastes that leach into our freshwater streams, lakes, rivers and the aquifers where we extract our drinking water.

Vast infestations of non-native plants, insects and vermin are ravaging our prairies and farmlands now from decades of over-supplying fertilizers and insecticides manufactured and distributed by big-chem.  Similar to public-health issues associated with mining extractions, soils supersaturated with agricultural chemicals seep into shallow aquifers contaminating the drinking water for nearby farm families. Identical dangers result from hazardous materials being illegally dumped into our marshes and streams.

 

Because of rising and drier atmospheric temperatures produced by climate change, seasonal high mountain storms are no longer capable of producing adequate snowfalls necessary to sustain agriculture and ranching in the lower valleys across the Colorado River Basin.  Other neighboring mountain regions face the same problems. Consequently, more so than ever before, where we live, where we work and where we play today influences every aspect of this nation’s futures; and, the health and security of America’s population.

 

In terms of economic interests, with the end of World War II, federal, state and local governments, directly and indirectly, have promoted growth and development within this nation’s larger cities and have provided assistance to the large, national and international corporations that headquarter there.  At the same time, the government has significantly ignored and neglected development assistance to America’s smaller communities.

Large, sprawling cities like Atlanta, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles and highly concentrated metro-plexes like Chicago, Miami, Phoenix and Kansas City keep adding to America’s concentrations of populations, bringing larger environmental problems, pollution and increasing potential for property losses as urban boundaries keep expanding.  Larger perimeters require more miles of pavement and hard surface to accommodate the needs of increased motor vehicle traffic.  Likewise, more hard surfaces and pavement produce larger heat sinks, elevated urban nighttime temperatures and with storms, greater sheet flooding – exactly like what we observed in Houston and Miami.  Old, inefficient storm sewerage systems stop-up quickly spreading rainwater onto adjacent properties and into low-lying buildings and other structures.

In Houston, excessive water pressure from sheet flooding blew open the manhole covers of the sanitary sewerage systems directing raw sewerage onto the region’s main commercial roadways; and, into surrounding neighborhoods - flooding yards and houses.  These events produced increased health problems and greater environmental pollution - mixing fecal bacteria with other released hazardous wastes.

Floodwaters will ultimately reside.  However, the environmental damage, health concerns and hazardous materials absorbed in the soil remain dangerous to those nearby.  Roadways, utilities, and infrastructure can be patched and repaired, but the functional inadequacy of the systems still exist, and the infrastructure will quickly fail once again with the arrival of a new significant storm.   


Flooding similar to what we observed in Houston occurred across the low-lying areas of Florida and Puerto Rico, but the greatest damage to the two infrastructures was to its above-ground power and communications systems.  Some properties in Florida are expected to be without power and communications for three weeks - or possibly longer.  In Puerto Rico, it’s reported it may take six months to repair power and communications across the island.
 

It’s important to also realize that infrastructure repairs are generally structured, organized and scheduled based upon priorities and the importance each system has upon the operations of the community-at-large.  In most instances, single-family residences are placed at the bottom of priories.   

 

In an era of climate chaos, the continued growth of America’s large sprawling mega-plex communities only makes matters for the future worse - and the next after storm rebuilding process longer and more expensive.  Science and technology today provides us with the ability to identify, quantify and determine the sustainable resource capacity of every jurisdictional region in America.   We should use this ability to make future problems easier to resolve, leaving fewer residual issues to address after a storm.     
 

As a nation, the federal government has as primary responsibilities, the protection of the public, health, safety, and welfare - and to offer equal access to all jurisdictions to economic development assistance.  In meeting these responsibilities, America needs a national strategic community development and infrastructure recovery plan to assist all states and communities prepare for the future.

A large segment of the nation’s recovery program must focus on how the United States integrates economic development with community development to make America competitive with emerging, new economic forces worldwide – yet, remain environmentally sustainable in terms of maintaining resource capacities - and in protecting America and its infrastructure from increases in anticipated weather events ahead.

Determining and regulating regional resource capacities as part of the recovery plan should become an integral part of this nation’s strategic planning process – and the driver behind economic as well as community development.  Every community within every state must become an active participant in the nation’s plan through education and training to produce innovation, entrepreneurship and increased output based upon the community’s resource potential and its sustainable resource capacity.
 

With an objective, scientific approach to development, future communities will quickly morph, evolve and emerge as a product of rational determinations based on keeping America strong and competitive with the remainder of the world.  With a resource capacity plan in place, a community should never be allowed to expand beyond its sustainable capacity nor alter or eliminate natural drainage channels, bayous, wetlands or similar habitats that are significant in retaining nature’s balance between its eco-bio systems.  This includes protecting natural settings that support native flora, fauna, and migratory birds and animals.

All housing, commercial and industrial development appropriate for communities near the nation’s coasts and other sensitive environmental areas needs to be re-thought, re-designed and re-constructed in a manner to protect real property and related assets from future, extreme weather events.  As an example, Hawaii’s lowland resorts are designed to accommodate and protect guests during the occurrence of a rare tsunami.  Likewise, in hurricane zones, roofing tiles are specially designed to withstand extraction force winds that make them potentially deadly flying objects.  Within tornado-prone regions structures should include basements or protective collection areas to safely accommodate facility users during either an EF-4 or EF-5 event; both of which are deadly and powerful enough to extract buildings from their foundations.

Can large sprawling communities across America be entirely retrofitted to mitigate future extreme weather events?  Probably not; but, over time existing poor planning, design and shoddy construction can be replaced with responsible redevelopment.  The same holds true for infrastructure, including roadways, storm sewerage, and utilities.



Across this country’s regions subject to high wind events, ice storms and deep freezes, all above ground infrastructure and utilities can be buried to eliminate most all weather disruptions.  Floodplains and lowlands along our rivers and streams can be reserved for agricultural purposes to reduce damages flooding produces.  Programs to purchase property within many flood areas are already underway in a number of jurisdictions.   

The nation needs hundreds if not thousands of new reservoirs to collect and manage excess stormwater for useful purposes before it becomes polluted and contaminated beyond saving.  Community development within our mountains, national forests, our plains, and deserts should be carefully planned, designed - and provided with appropriate infrastructure, fire-safety programs, and security, including sanitary and solid waste management programs - that protect nature’s valuable assets from further destruction.

Plans to accommodate future sustainable populations need to be guided at the national level, drawing upon valuable community resources that already exist across America, including small rural communities now struggling to survive.  With current communications and transportation, competing with economies across the world can be just as successful when human resources and productivity are decentralized – rather than concentrated in unsustainable urban centers.

As an example, Marvin Windows and Doors is a small town manufacturing operation headquartered in Warroad, Minnesota since 1904.  Warroad’s current population is less than 1800 residents.  The company’s products are sold and shipped globally - from the Warroad facilities.  After college, most of Warroad’s youth return home to work with the company – just as their families have for many generations.              

There are a number of similar examples across the United States where small towns remain successful and sustainable; but sadly, there are far more in need of a stronger, more productive economic base to keep the communities alive – and thriving.  If we have the ability to create nuclear fission and nuclear fusion, we can work our way through our nation’s current problems and return to a nation of communities that are safe places to live, that are more productive and contribute more to making the world economically as well as environmentally sustainable and have lives that are more fulfilling, happy, and secure.     

 

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