Post-Disaster Rebuild...or Retreat?
In locations that are prone to natural disasters, like the hills of Malibu, coastal cities the world over and the Caribbean, for decades the coventional wisdom has been to attempt to beat nature. "We will rebuild! And better than before!" becomes our rallying cry- even though we must know on some level that we can't beat nature. Nature's scale and power dwarf our own; we cannot stare down the sea.
A new paper published last month in the journal Science makes the case that rebuilding in a disaster zone may not just be an exercise in futility, but may actually hold communities back.
“There’s a definite rhetoric of, ‘We’re going to build it back better. We’re going to win. We’re going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it’s going to save us,’” said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper.
“It’s like, let’s step back and think for a minute,” she said. “You’re in a fight with the ocean. You’re fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that’s not the battle we want to pick.”
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says,doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
Dr. Siders pointed to Soldiers Grove, Wis., a town of about 500 that, after one too many floods, moved itself out of the flood plain. The community took that challenge and turned it into opportunity, reorienting the business district such that it could take advantage of highway traffic and powering it entirely with solar energy — and they did this in the 1970s.
The article not only stresses the viability of retreat but challenges the idea that retreat is based exclusively on geographical factors like elevation and proximity to the coast. “Retreat, in practice, depends at least as much on sort of social, economic, cultural geography,” Dr. Liz Koslov, an assistant professor in the department of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the study, said.
You can read more on the NY Times website here.