Can smart growth help communities avoid the catastrophic impacts of flooding? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) brought together designers, land use planners, engineers and policy wonks at NOAA’s Silver Spring headquarters last week to examine this question, and to find commonalities and tensions between hazard mitigation techniques and smart growth principles.
“Hazard mitigation” is the technical term for a wide range of urban design, landscape, architectural, land use and engineering practices aimed at reducing exposure to threats like flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfire. This field of practice is closely related to climate change adaptation, or the process of planning ahead for eventualities such as extreme temperatures and sea-level rise.
The experts at last week’s meeting raised several questions about urban planning’s role in hazard mitigation. Should cities require the street level of new buildings to contain nothing more permanent than parking spaces? Can communities be persuaded to envision a post-disaster future by engaging in pre-disaster planning? Is it worth the effort to integrate local comprehensive plans, which are optional, and hazard mitigation plans, which are required?