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Houston is currently on the news.

Contrary to what many people think, Houston does have planning, although it does not have conventional zoning as all other big cities in the United States.

According to an article in

“Other legal and governance mechanisms have evolved, including deed restrictions and historic designations that allow homeowners in a neighbourhood to impose rules that function as a sort of de-facto locally controlled zoning, and district organisations that give local businesses some influence in shaping the look and character of their areas. Finally, developers themselves have stepped in to fill the regulatory gap by creating master-planned communities—most on the suburban periphery, but some within Houston itself—that provide a more carefully controlled environment for those who seek it”.

It is not difficult to hypothesise that  without comprehensive planning and investment in green/blue infrastructure (“working with nature” type of infrastructure), this city is unusually vulnerable to floods.

Planning is not the solution for most problems (it actually is usually part of the problem), but climate change and extreme climate events present us with new challenges, so we might need new ways of  doing spatial planning. Going without spatial planing all together is not an option.

Sam Brody from Texas A&M gave an interview in the Guardian in which he explains how land use is an important part of the problem in Houston. Planning is not per se named as being part of the solution/problem, but Brody identifies land use as one of the sources of the problem.

Nikki Brand from SPS was interviewed by NRC, a national Dutch newspaper (see below), to explain how land use and political ideology explain this extreme flood event in Houston. For Brand, the excessive emphasis on individual freedom in Texas prevents politicians to carry out collective action, and water management is a task for governments.

The Netherlands is a good example of a country built on inhospitable ground, which demanded a consensus-seeking kind of planning the territory, which had a profound influence not only on how space is organised, but on how society itself is organised.

Consensus had to be sought among a large number of stakeholders with conflicting interests in order for action to be taken. Without agreement, they could not survive, because all hands were necessary to carry out the necessary works to “keep people’s feet dry”.  Consensus here enabled collective action and the creation of public goods, but most importantly, it gave rise to the “polder model” which is a societal model centred on consensus-seeking and collective action that benefit all, but where all have responsibilities and obligations.

For a paper explaining the polder model, please click:

Vries, J. d. (2014). “The Netherlands and the Polder Model: Questioning the Polder Model Concept.” bmgn – Low Countries Historical Review 129(1): 99-111.

The American societal model that puts excessive emphasis on individual initiative and propagates the idea of government non-interference and “minimum government” is taking its toll on the country’s infrastructure and disabling local and national authorities to take initiative in order to mobilise stakeholders and resources that will enable the carrying our of large infrastructure.

(Text by Roberto Rocco, with collaboration from Nikki Brand)

Below, article (in Dutch) where Nikki Brand explains how ideology gets in the way of good water planning.

Click on the image to see the article on the Dutch news outlet NRC.

The influence of Houston’s layout on flood resilience is further analysed in this article:

How Houston’s layout may have made its flooding worse

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