Smart Growth In Not-So-Dumb Places

MLewyn's picture

Not long ago, Brigham Young's law review published a provocative article entitled "Smart Growth in Dumb Places."  The basic theory of the article is that building near the water is dangerous, and where downtowns are near the water, infill development is thus dangerous.

The article's premise is interesting in theory.  But it does seem to be contradicted by the evidence.  In my lifetime, I have lived through two major natural disasters: Hurricane Andrew (in Miami) and Superstorm Sandy (in New York).  

Andrew was expected to be most harmful in coastal areas, and so residents of those areas were told to evacuate.  But in fact, the storm's greatest impact was from wind rather than water: the wind destroyed tens of thousands of homes not in downtown Miami, but in the region's sprawling southern suburbs, from Kendall (where the city's Metro Rail system ends) to Homestead 30 miles south of Miami.

Sandy did create some flooding and power outages in lower Manhattan- but by and large, lower Manhattan was up and running after a week or two. Within the city of New York, 43 people died in the storm: 23 were in suburban Staten Island, and only two in Manhattan. The southernmost (and thus most suburban) areas of Brooklyn and Queens were also hard-hit.

How come both storms primarily affected suburbia?  Andrew created more wind damage than water damage; thus, proximity to the coast was simply not a major risk factor for damage.  It may be too early to fully analyze why some places suffered more than offers this month. One factor favoring Manhattan is that Sandy's storm surges drowned single-family homes, but was obviously less dangerous to Manhattan mid-and high-rises where people could retreat to higher floors. 

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