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Un-Natural Disasters, Recursive Resilience, Unjust Compensation, Visionless Planning


Summary: The “disasters” we care about are not “natural,” but social, and they are different from the disasters of previous eras. “Resilience planning” recursively accepts their recurrence, and often uses them to further already desired urban restructuring rather than preventing them. Vulnerability to the damages and compensation for the suffering such “disasters” cause are both unjustly distributed. No vision informs disaster planning policy, and participatory planning to deal with them is badly under-developed. Good, democratic, equity-oriented planning is badly needed. font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>Un-natural disasters.
There is no such thing as a “natural” disaster.
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mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>Recursive resilience.
Not only the causes, but even more the responses, to disasters are dictated by the existing economic and political structures of the society. Obviously planning for resilience is accepting the inevitability of that to which resilience is the response, in this case including un-natural disasters. In the real world, the choice between dealing with the causes of a disaster, on the one hand, or on the other hand, accepting them but mitigating their consequences, is a matter of cost-benefit analysis, weighing the costs and benefits of the alternatives against each other. But costs and benefits are not distributed randomly. Some consequences may even be desirable, and fit in with the on-going restructuring of urban space that is a feature of mainstream economic development policy in most cities today.

Two examples: In New Orleans after Katrina, resilience planning served to accentuate processes already underway, desired by the power structure, and facilitated by the hurricane damage. 4,5000 units of public housing, long neglected both by the City and HUD, although badly damaged by Katrina, have been totally demolished by the city with HUD approval, although many participants considered them quite salvageable. But, as Louisiana’s Republican Congressman Richard Baker said a week after Katrina: font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
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In the waterfront areas of New York and New Jersey hit by Sandy:

Homeowners and landlords are eligible [for loans and grants] if their primary residence was damaged, using a contractor chosen by the city or picking their own contractor within government-set cost limits.

Homeowners also have the option of selling flood-prone properties to the city and relocating elsewhere.

“It is true in some cases, based on the level of damage and other factors, owners may want to voluntarily sell their homes and relocate,” Bloomberg said. “The city will work with the communities and developers to strategically redevelop those properties in a smarter and more resilient way.” font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>Unjust Compensation.
The bias in the distribution of the costs and the benefits of the public governmental response to disasters might be most egregiously seen in the handling of compensation to the victims of disasters. Again, an example: After 9/11, the families of those who lost their lives in the attack on the World Trade Center were provided compensation by special congressional legislation, administered through a Special Victims’ compensation Fund administered by clear standards rigorously applied. The measure was the loss of income from the victim that the victims’ families would have received had he (less often she) survived.

The formulas were spelled out and based on the loss of earnings that would have been received had the victim lived, so that the higher the income, the higher the award, with a cap on that calculation if the earnings were above the 98th percentile of earners, or $231,000 font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>Visionless Planning.
Good planning is supposed to start with a clear statement of the goals of the plan. Here, the challenge would be beginning with what measures might be taken to address the destructive forces creating the problem, and then develop an idea of how areas likely to be subject to those natural forces should be handled. For the former, dealing with climate change would be an obvious priority. It is remarkable how little the big question of the causes of climate change have been linked to disaster planning. Obviously climate change is a long-range issue, and its causes will not be in hand in time to affect more immediately feared disasters; yet one would think it would produce a major upsurge in attention to what could be done, legislation would be debated in Congress, regulations proposed at all levels of government, funding for research hugely provided, to prevent the connected un-natural disasters from occurring and to deal with the complex legal problems requiring legislative solution involved in any serious planning efforts. This is not happening.

Relatively little long-range land use planning is going on at the local level. The issues are indeed complicated, with all kinds of difficult trade-offs needing to be evaluated, long, medium, and short range. But some principles of a vision might be useful to structure a vision:

The amenity value of many fragile locations is high, e.g. beaches, river banks, marshes, etc. Such natural amenities should be available to everyone, and direct public ownership might be the default arrangement.

 

doesn’t cut it. “our waterfront???” No. “Whose waterfront? “ must be a central part of any analysis, and “whose costs” and “whose benefits” a central part of any solutions. In the New York City case, there is a well-developed Uniform Land Use Procedure in place, and the city has an experienced city planning department and competent staff. But the Bloomberg Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency was kept in the Mayor’s own office, and its report does not even list the City Planning Commission or the Planning Department among the agencies they involved—not to speak of ignoring the ULURP process entirely.

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”> This piece grew out of a productive discussion at the Planners Network national conference: “Beyond Resilience,” at a panel chaired by Norma Ratisi, participated in by Thom Angotti, Erminia Mericato, Nabil Kamel and, and Dick Flacks, as well as myself, New York City, June 9, 2013.

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”> Chester Hartman and Gregory Squires, eds. There’s No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster: Race, Class, and Hurricane Katrina, Routledge, New York,.

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”> I owe the example to Nabil Kamel..

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”> Ermenia Mericato has explicated some of these cases.

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”> “Some GOP Legislators Hit Jarring Notes in Addressing Katrina,” Washington Post, 10 September 2005, A4, available at
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mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”> City press release , available at:
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mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>. Special Master’s Final Report, p. 8

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”> Marcuse, Peter. 2011. “Ignoring Justice In Disaster Planning: 9/11, Katrina, And Social Policy,” in Merlin Chowkwanyun and Randa Serhan, eds., American Democracy and the Pursuit of Equality: (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2011), pp. 132-161. Slightly differenct version in: “Ignoring injustice in disaster planning: an agenda for research on 9/11 and Katrina” at
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mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”> See, for a good historical discussion,
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mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”> Indeed, some proposals, such as the sea wall with gates, would require multi-state review of their lop-sided expenditures running up to $20 billion dollars. See
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mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”> Hurricane Sandy After Action, May 2013, available at