Meanwhile, here in Southeast Texas, we are not having school this week. Thanks to Tropical Marathon Summer Shower Harvey, in many places, the water is too high even for a school bus to get safely through. Area districts will resume (or in some cases start classes) the Tuesday after Labor Day. My own employer, a small private university, just now announced that it is closed for the entire week. (My director just texted to say that we'd soon have more news on extended closure soon.)
Most businesses are closed; social media outlets are useful for informing us which are actually open. Metro service is suspended, although yesterday I saw an Out of Service bus on Scott Street, presumably taking people to a storm shelter. Some surrounding communities are under mandatory evacuation. There are far fewer cars and trucks on our streets than usual, but yesterday on a reconnaissance walk I witnessed people parking their vehicles on Scott where it crosses Brays Bayou, getting out, and taking video of the high and rushing water.
Stormy Thoughts and Tweets
Presumably, according to the scientific consensus, ACD is to blame for our planet having more frequent, more intense, and wetter tropical cyclones. The amount of precipitation from Harvey breaks all records locally, but a lot of folks around Alvin still talk about 1979, Victoria about 1998, even if they don't remember that storms by name (Claudette and—well, Victoria's storm didn't even have a name).
However, just as Katrina was a man-made disaster in 2005, I see Harvey as a continuation of a man-made disaster that has spanned multiple years. With Katrina, the lack of evacuation infrastructure and the inadequate structural integrity of the levees killed more people and caused more misery in Greater New Orleans than the storm itself. You could also throw in the loss of wetlands and mangrove patches in coastal Louisiana and Mississippi, wetlands that would have absorbed a lot of the rain.
In the ever-expanding Houston metropolitan area, we've lost some wetlands too. More importantly, we've been losing prairies. To the northwest, west, southwest, and south of the city, developers have been turning those prairies (as well as the old rice farms) into subdivisions. There is far less permeable ground in the watersheds of the bayous that flow from those prairies. The subdivisions discharge their treated sewage back into the bayous. Downstream, older neighborhoods that formerly flooded never or very seldom have had devastating floods four times in the last three years.
Meanwhile, inside the Loop and just beyond it, older single-family homes and duplexes with yards (aka, affordable housing) have been razed and replaced with omnipresent, butt-ugly, multi-story townhomes on big concrete slabs with token vegetation deployed here and there (aka, profitable housing).
Bigger, Faster, Stupider
The connection between development (which is not exactly new) and the recent flooding is officially controversial, as this article notes. Even stupid development is not new: Just ask the folks who bought in Cy-Fair–area subdivisions like Norchester and Ravensway, both situated right along Cypress Creek.
But there are reasons, other than the Attwater's Prairie Chicken, for concerned citizens having fought against development of the Katy Prairie and the construction of the Grand Parkway for so many years. Even Republican candidates for elective office havepublicly and vociferously opposed the Grand Parkway, which has kicked the sprawl machine into top gear. Just as the oil & gas companies are now resorting to high-risk strategies like tar sands, deepwater drilling, and hydrofracking, the housing mafia has begun gobbling up the most vulnerable lands that might protect the area from Harvey-esque catastrophic flooding.
The painful part for me is that I have friends who live and work in that sprawl—e.g., teaching the children of the Sprawlites. One of them posted photos yesterday of Seven Lakes High School, which over the weekend has turned into One Lake.
Inside the city, the builders may be building for density, but they're doing it stupidly and maliciously. Townhomes and luxury mid-rises are pushing out students, working folk, and families who have lived in their neighborhoods for generations but can no longer afford the property taxes on their over-valued bungalows. The ultimate insult is the new Grey House and River Oaks District, which I've blogged about previously: a new-urbanism-style luxury apartment village with luxury boutiques on the ground floor, where rents start at if-you-have-to-ask-you-can't-afford-it. (OK, it's actually about $1,700 for a 1-1.)
Rather than continue wallowing here, I may have some real wallowing to do today. I'll post a follow-up tomorrow or the next day.