Smarter Urban Planning in an Age of Extreme Weather


Historically, cities around the world have practiced urban planning methods to improve communities for both residents and governing bodies. Those methods differ by region, but are consistent in the initiatives they support — land use, environmental protection, and public welfare.

However, weather patterns have recently become unusually extreme, sometimes disastrous, due to global warming. In order to protect our urban environments, we need to account for these dramatic weather fluctuations through smarter, preemptive urban planning.


The Current Landscape

Altering a city’s physical infrastructure is not fast or easy, which means cities must prepare beforehand to defend against certain weather conditions. Natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy are unfortunate reminders of the potential consequences.

Of course, no two locations feel environmental effects in quite the same way. California has succumbed to extreme droughts while the Northeastern region of the country is visited regularly by severe storm weather. Meanwhile, rising temperatures melt polar ice, warm ocean bodies, and lessen mountain snowpacks. As a result, coastal areas are feeling the consequences of rises in sea level.

Weather patterns may differ by location, but their massive impact on city life and urban planning is undeniable. The cost for a city’s unpreparedness can multiply itself in damage repair.


The Effects of Extreme Weather In Urban Places

One of the more dangerous and consistent results of global warming and inadequate urban planning is flooding. Not only can water disasters lead to loss of life, but their effects on agriculture can also be substantial, often with international ripple effects.

In urban environments, flooding causes damage to residential properties, businesses, subway infrastructure, and roads. In order to prevent those massive repair costs, urban planning must be approached as a preventative measure.

The largest global disaster of 2012 was Hurricane Sandy with an astounding cost of $65 billion. Hurricane Sandy and the year-long Midwest/Plains drought accounted for almost half of the world’s economic losses, according to USA Today.

Even when the damages of extreme weather don’t amount to this astronomical figure, flooding still poses both economic and environmental problems on a smaller scale. Snowfall and drought also can be damaging in extreme cases.


Finding New Methods

Just as weather patterns are changing, so should preparation efforts. Self sufficiency — a common community approach when it comes to anticipating severe weather — is an element that urban planning can easily incorporate. That is, urban planners will help make it easier to retain the resources that become scarce in times of natural disasters.

For example, many buildings are beginning to harvest their own rainwater and residential households are filtering their rainwater for utility usage. With cities allowing designated space for water storage area or tools to help water and energy conservation, the communities are in a much better place if their resources are ever strained.

Architects are also looking to implement responsive living materials into traditional buildings so that they are more adaptive and environmentally suitable. It is not uncommon to find corporate buildings using green energy and filtered air, and architects are now seeking to make residential buildings just as environmentally conscious. Engineers have started to create amazing materials, such as self-repairing concrete, a substance that uses sunlight and bacteria to repair any cracks that appear in the concrete to prevent water infiltration.

To persuade cities to be more proactive outside of their traditional urban planning methods will take some time. But just as urban planning helps us adapt to busy environments, it needs to adapt to the extreme weather conditions as well. Finding new ways to approach the urban planning process can help minimize the damaging effects of severe weather conditions and create a better, more prepared city environment.