Piling on Houston

Charles Marohn, Nation Review

‘These are Americans. They’re our neighbors. If not Houston, who else?”

These were the words of Issa Dadoush, Houston’s director of building services, twelve years ago when Katrina devastated New Orleans. Sixty thousand evacuees were welcomed into Houston and nearly three times that many ultimately made the city their new home. Harris County judge Robert Eckels said that Katrina was probably Houston’s “finest moment.” It’s an inspiring side story of that tragedy that looms large today.

It’s no unique observation that we live in divisive ideological times. Every event, regardless of how tragic and random, is immediately politicized on cable news and social media. We’re all guilty, to a degree, of starting with a point of view and then selecting facts to create a narrative to support it. That’s human nature, and in a time when we wall ourselves off — physically in our neighborhoods and culturally in what we read and listen to — we encounter few credible counter-opinions from people we respect.

Mexico earthquake death toll surpasses 200 00:13 00:31 Powered by My own organization, Strong Towns, promotes several ideas that seem easy to apply to Houston: The city is too spread out, its infrastructure too expansive for its unproductive tax base to properly maintain, and thus it was woefully unprepared for Hurricane Harvey. If they hadn’t built all those parking lots, filled in all those wetlands, and insisted on driving everywhere, this wouldn’t have been nearly as devastating.

That narrative is simple. It’s also wrong.

I am a licensed engineer and a certified land-use planner. I don’t generally find it important to note that, but the coverage of Harvey is inundated with expert opinions, and I’m going to explain why many of them are wrong or are being misinterpreted to fit a media narrative. I’ve done hydrology and drainage work as an engineer and, as a planner, administered the regulatory process of impervious coverage and managing wetlands.