How to weather calamities like Harvey and Irma

Weathering CalamitesNew ideas on how to build more resilient cities focus on working with nature, rather than trying to master it, says Charles Redman – founding director of ASU’s School of Sustainability. Redman now leads a group of researchers from 15 institutions in a National Science Foundation-sponsored project called the Urban Resilience to Extreme Weather Related Events Sustainability Research Network (UREx SRN), which focuses on ways to make cities more resilient to natural calamities. This entails building infrastructure systems that are safe-to-fail, rather than fail-safe, and recognizing that cities should be able to take advantage of natural features of the land. "The overarching problem with cities like Houston is that they have built over the natural landscape with impervious surfaces, and with impediments to the natural flow of surface runoff," says Redman. "A more effective approach may be to implement infrastructure systems that work with the land to facilitate runoff rather than try to control it, but acknowledge and plan that if a specific threshold is exceeded and the system 'fails' in some sense there are backup plans in place that minimize the adverse impacts."