Comment of the Day: The Even Bigger Reason Houston Might Want To Address Its Flooding Problems

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE EVEN BIGGER REASON HOUSTON MIGHT WANT TO ADDRESS ITS FLOODING PROBLEMS “People in Houston need to talk with people in other parts of the country to be able to understand the need for funding massive improvements in our flood control infrastructure. I had friends and family from LA to Philly telling me to get out of the city and come stay with them as soon as it was possible to travel out of the city. My sister even offered to drive her minivan over 1,200 miles to come rescue me. I still have family asking me whether they should cancel plans to visit over Thanksgiving for fear that hotels will be full and no rental cars are available. It is easy to get all worked up about taxes when you did not get flooded and go into the usual red state “don’t tax me, tax that guy behind the tree” mode. But much more is at stake for Houston than whether parts of the city keep flooding. We run the risk of being seen as a city that is not worth the risk for existing and prospective businesses. People in Houston are getting used to these flood events and are not pressed into action by aerial footage on CNN showing Buffalo Bayou turning into a raging torrent. But everywhere else in the US, people see that and are completely freaked out by it. If we continue with applying band aids and do not make any big dramatic moves to improve our flood control infrastructure, we will not only be risking future catastrophic flooding but will also be risking losing current and future business to cities that are on higher ground away from the path of hurricanes and tropical storms.” [Old School, commenting on Comment of the Day: Abandoned Neighborhoods Make Great Detention Ponds] Illustration: Lulu

14 Comment

  • Are Houston’s best suburban enclaves now ripe plums forming in essence,an eminent domain archipelago that sly turner’s campaign benefactors will soon develop for pennies on the dollar?

  • The idea that the Houston area has just been complacent all this time and needs to ‘wake up’ is ridiculous. Houston has been steadily improving its situation for decades through various means ( infrastructure, regulation, mitigation, response, etc). This progression got particular boosts by these larger events and we will see the same needed boost post-Harvey. But realize these rainfalls events over the last 2+ years have been off the charts and applying these lessons learned takes years.

  • The ignorance and stupidity of those who fall for the media’s “if it bleeds it leads” mantra is no basis for the design of a city.

    FEMA’s initial analysis says something like 5% of Harris county land parcels were affected by Harvey.

    In the last 3 years, when Cypress flooded that was well less than 1% of the metro, when Meyerland and the Brazos flooded that was well less than 1% of the metro but everyone will laugh at the idea of 100 year storms because they know all of “Houston” has flooded three times in the last three years and it is obvious that 100% of the city should be replaced with detention ponds to keep the other detention ponds from flooding.

    I am not saying that I know our flood control policies are set at an appropriate level but the hyperbole that is used when trying to not let a crisis go to waste makes me suspect that no else is really trying to equate costs with benefits anyways.

  • So hyped up media portrayal of Harvey as the end of the world has your out of town friends hand wringing and having a hissy? And you think people (probably not your friends) who are planning on or not planning on investing millions of dollars in the Houston area haven’t been made aware by their risk management that hurricanes and tropical storms periodically slam into the Texas coast (with well appointed examples occurring for the last recorded 200 yrs) leaving a swathe of flooding and destruction? I’ll pass on the hand wringing and “temporary” taxes.

  • And people in Houston keep asking me if I’m worried an earthquake is going to swallow me whole (I’m normally living in San Diego now).
    Not much you can do against a freak biblical style flood. I think Houston came out pretty well (with condolences to people that didn’t). We have property spread out pretty far around the city (at least inner loop). Save my underground laundry room were we lost about $20k in machines and water heaters, we didn’t have much damage.
    I kept hearing about all these people that were losing their homes with no where to go. To help, we rushed to make as many empty units available as we could (even shifted people around to make room for more). We offered them up to anyone flooded that needed them (via our website, facebook, agents we’ve worked with, and tenants who might know people).
    We had a whopping 4 people take us up on it. And in the last few weeks following, we’ve seen only a blip of increase of people looking.
    So while it caused a lot of damage, it wasn’t *that* bad in terms of overall displaced people relative to the trillions of gallons of water dumped on us in a few days.

  • All of this is obvious but you know that half the folks in City hall are wondering if this is true.

  • If Houston loses business it is because of the utter mediocrity of its institutions of higher learning as well as the toxic bifurcated employment scene.

  • Some big money is about to be spent on well-understood much-needed flood control projects, and that’s good. But the most important thing with Houston is that the energy industry is firmly entrenched in the city. That parts of the area flooded probably will not discourage ExxonMobil from continuing to shift jobs into the city. It’s not going to cause Shell to shift employment back to New Orleans. It isn’t going to affect how pipeyards or refineries are situated, and actually if anything I’d bet that industry will be supportive of new flood control projects and should be expected to retrench in Houston.
    The recent news that Houston ought to be digesting with some discomfort is that some major car producers and some major automotive markets in Europe and Asia are moving toward all-electric fleets, and that trucking is being targeted by electric car producers. If there’s any one thing that could transform Houston into the Detroit of the Sunbelt, that’s the trend that’d do it.
    I’m tempted to say that Houston needs to take advantage of the tax base while its there and invest in such things as would improve quality-of-life, but…Detroit used to be a very nice city with lots of amenities. If the jobs aren’t there, QoL isn’t enough.

  • Raze UH – figuratively, not quite so much literally – and start it completely over. Tell Amazon they can mold the school however they want with whatever curriculum and teachers they want, experimenting on the students however they want. That will entice them! (And it will be fantastic for the students and the city.)

  • @the Niche

    I think Houston no longer has the total reliance on the fossil fuel and chemical industries it once did. Everyone was forecasting doom and gloom after the oil downturn in 2014, but the effect seemed to only turn meteoric growth into merely healthy growth. Keep in mind that we still have the second busiest port in the country and some of the best health care facilities in the world. A Detroit scenario for Houston seems far fetched.

  • Left un-noted by the press is that Texas Medical Center, which was devastated by Allison, had much less damage from Harvey, in fact, negligible. Same story at UH: the UC Underground filled to the brim after Allison and was down for a year, but after Harvey, there are only some wet carpets and it re-opens next week. (let’s not discuss the underground law library). Some things did go right during the week of Aug 27.

  • Part of this “image” problem is that our freeways and roads are designed to flood, so even with smaller floods it will look like the entire city is under water when it isn’t.

  • The energy industry, as I perceive it, will be about gains from efficiency and optimization (instead of exploration) from here on out, so they are down but not out. I suppose we will see a different kind of energy industry worker around town. Maybe they will spend money differently, not in a lesser amount, but differently somehow.

  • @ Heightsresident & anon22: Houston weathered 2014 better than I’d thought it would, but if the Euro crisis had deepened then there would’ve been a concomitant global financial crisis, a reduction in global energy demand, and all the energy companies with bonds that had been downgraded would’ve been squeezed very very hard. Even the strongest players would’ve been in a much weaker position to gobble up assets and re-position them. No amount of cost-cutting would’ve likely averted the fallout from that scenario.
    Looking forward, population growth in Asia is declining and the size of the workforce has largely plateaued and will shrink. The energy-intensity of industry there has been declining because older inefficient capital has been retired and because the economy there is diversifying. Latin America’s demography is following not too far behind. This is where long-term demand growth was supposed to come from. Will Africa be the saving grace? Questionable. The African continent, if the pace of development takes off, is in a much better position to leap-frog Europe and Asia in terms of renewable energy production. There’s a lot of land and much of it is sunny; the infrastructure supporting it will be mostly new.
    Don’t get me wrong, there will always be a need for hydrocarbons. There are some useful non-fuel industrial products that simply cannot be synthesized without them and there are likely some heating and transportation purposes for which hydrocarbons cannot be feasibly replaced. Reductions in the expected price of hydrocarbons should also buoy long-term demand to some extent and perhaps create new opportunities for niche materials production. However…a reduction in global demand for hydrocarbons even by 20% over a decade, with more reductions thereafter, would hobble the entire industry, top to bottom. High-cost oilfields and many older less efficient refineries will be retired without replacement. Even ongoing operations will be written down in value, and the energy sector’s labor shortage will be unpleasantly resolved. The value of these big assets as a tax base will be decimated, challenging many jurisdictions. (On that note, a flare-up in political instability in the Middle East might offer Houston a boom cycle or two.) For Houston to re-invent itself after that is perhaps more plausible than that Detroit might, but any such expectations are far beyond relevant time horizons for investment.