All Fall Down

City of Houston Must Stop Issuing Permits for Bank Projects that Damage Public and Private Property and the Environment

 

July 11, 2019

What would we think if government officials issued a permit to build a bridge or a house that they knew would fall down?

What if officials knew the house would fall down on top of someone else’s house, but they issued the permit anyway?

And what if they knew that building the house would destabilize the rest of the houses up and down and across the street, but they closed their eyes and plugged their ears and said, “That’s not really our responsibility. Go ahead.”

 

A view of Area 2 on the south bank of Buffalo Bayou below the River Oaks Country Club golf course. There were trees and vegetation there once. Taken from the opposite bank in Memorial Park on July 2, 2019

 

Recently a group of homeowners gathered on Buffalo Bayou watching anxiously as a heavy equipment operator across the way pounded massive panels of sheet piling into the opposite bank. Their well-founded concern was that the hardening of the bank with metal and concrete was going to direct the bayou flow onto their property, flooding, eroding, and destabilizing their homes.

It is a scene often repeated on the bayou. A lawyer with the group commented that he regularly gets calls from worried property owners asking what they can do about the alarming “erosion control” project their neighbor is building across the way or next door.

 

Stop Issuing Permits for Hardening Banks

Here’s what should be done: The City of Houston needs to stop issuing building permits for these kinds of bank-hardening projects. Not only do they frequently fail, make bank problems worse, increase flooding and damage neighboring property; they also destroy the river’s beneficial functions, its ability to adjust, slow, absorb, and cleanse stormwater, collect sediment and reduce bacteria, and provide habitat for a diversity of creatures large and small necessary for the health of our environment, including trees and plants.

When one permit is issued, it forces other property owners to rush to an engineer willing to design a costly “erosion control” project for their bank too. Eventually our beautiful living bayou will be treeless and lifeless, entirely imprisoned between long ugly walls, filled with concrete debris, bouncing floodwater back and forth across the channel.

 

They Know These Projects Fail and Cause Damage

The City knows this. So do the Harris County Flood Control District and the Corps of Engineers, which also granted a federal permit for this project, although largely out of inaction, failing to respond within the required time limit.

Recognition that these bank hardening projects fail and cause damage was theoretically the basis for the controversial and misguided Memorial Park Demonstration Project, for which city and county taxpayers were asked to spend some $4 million. The project, first proposed around 2010 and dropped after Harvey, was based on a faulty analysis of the kind of bank problems we have on Buffalo Bayou. (Our banks mainly collapse vertically, by sliding down. And then gradually restore themselves, if left undisturbed.)

While the idea that neighbors should collaborate was a good one, their solution was not. The absurd plan was to demonstrate better “erosion control” by razing the trees and vegetation, digging up the banks, dredging and rerouting a long stretch of the bayou flowing past Memorial Park in the center of Houston, a historic nature area.

The project likely would have failed, washing out in a flood like Harvey, leaving behind a wasteland, as similar projects elsewhere have done.

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Resilient Development

In Houston, Development Must Think outside the Floodplains, Advocates Say

By Emma Whalen, Community Impact

Part of a series

July 4, 2019

As new development regulations in Houston attempt to offset the effects of more frequent heavy storms, some advocates and researchers say targeting the area’s urban sprawl will do more to reduce those at risk than limiting the amount of development in the city’s core.

….

Researchers, including Shelton, said approaching development regulations from a watershed level rather than a jurisdictional level would make it easier to manage stormwater runoff across Houston and its suburbs and would reduce the strain downstream on bayous and tributaries. This approach also calls for more dense development on existing property rather than converting open land into new subdivisions.

“We need to be redeveloping decrepit commercial districts [outside of flood plains] that would be suitable for multi-use residential and commercial,” said Susan Chadwick, director of nonprofit Save Buffalo Bayou. “Look at all those strip malls all the way up North Shepherd.”

Moving water through the city more effectively relies on less development upstream as well as more green space surrounding the bayous’ flood plains. This could be aided by the Houston Parks Board’s Bayou Greenways 2020 initiative, which focuses on adding parks and trails along the city’s bayous.

“We’re not against development,” Chadwick said. “It should just be intelligent development.”

Read the rest of this article in the Community Impact newspaper.

Tonic of the Wilderness

There Is a Word for the Trauma Caused by Distance from Nature

 

More Evidence of the Need for Nature in the City

By Ephrat Livni, Quartz

February 24, 2019

You’ve got problems. Perhaps more than you know. Apart from all the usual woes—work, relationships, money, time—the civilized life may also be causing you psychological trauma.

Disconnection from nature can be bad for our mental health. But there was no name for this particular malaise until Australian sustainability professor Glenn Albrecht coined the term psychoterratic, creating the beginning of a vocabulary to discuss the relationship between mental health and environment.

Since then, he’s thought up a whole lexicon. In May, Albrecht’s book, Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World, will be published by Cornell University Press. It includes gems like the word ecoagnosy, a term created to describe environmental ignorance or indifference to the ecology. Then there’s solastalgia, the psychic pain of climate change and missing a home that’s transforming before your eyes.

The Healing Power of Nature

Read the rest of this article in Quartz.

Image courtesy of Quartz