Houston has quietly become our fourth largest and fastest-growing city, due in large part to cheap housing. But the latter has come at an exorbitant cost to its safety. The swamps and wetlands that once characterized Houston’s hinterland have been replaced with strip malls and suburban tract homes.
Those landscapes once served as a natural flood protection system for the city. Research shows that, if they hadn’t been filled and developed, Harvey’s impact would have been lessened. Sam Brody and his colleagues at Texas A&M University in Galveston have been predicting an event like this for nearly a decade. That their work went unheeded by Texas policymakers should not be forgotten.
Worse, a generation of civic leaders have completely deregulated Houston’s land development market. In that process, they helped build a far-flung network of poor neighborhoods on top of a swamp. In Houston, there is a simple truth: the poorer you are, the closer you live to a petrochemical plant and the likelier your home is to flood.