Can Flood Planning Include Recreational Green Space?

In just under 24 hours on Memorial Day 2015, more than 8 inches of rain swamped Houston, Texas. The Memorial Day flooding was yet another chapter in Houston’s long flood history. Freeways, homes and buildings were submerged, trapping vehicles and triggering gridlock in some areas.

According to the Harris County Flood Control District’s network, rain totals of up to 11 inches were measured in southwest Harris County over Brays Bayou and Beltway 8.


The result: Houston emergency responders conducted 531 water rescues and triggered the first Level 1 emergency activation for Harris County since Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Global warming may contribute to more extreme weather events like these, so communities need to fortify against the likely onslaught.

Unfortunately for Houston, limiting development in flood-prone areas is not necessarily a key part of future flood planning. But Houston is making end roads for making room for bayous, not just to brace for disaster, but to also improve quality of life.

It’s pretty simple: plan for flooding in a way that creates community benefits like a park or recreation area or a trail for people to enjoy.

I think that notion is getting a lot more traction thanks to the Houston Parks Board Bayou Greenways Project. The projectwill significantly expand and enhance Houston’s parks system, creating a continuous system within the city limits of 150 miles of parks and trails along Houston’s bayous. HPB is trying to show that communities can do more than hunker down – they can also become more livable as they prepare for climate change.

Read more about the outcomes of the ambitious project here and how Houstonians will benefit.

Sachin Shah