Two Texas A&M urban planning professors are looking to improve communities’ resilience to flooding by investigating the complex relationships between flood infrastructure systems, the communication networks between planning agencies and the natural hazard plans they create.
The professors, Philip Berke and Sierra Woodruff, are part of a team of Texas A&M engineering and Bush School of Government and Public Service scholars who are studying whether and how disruptions between local infrastructure systems and communication networks affect a community’s flood resilience.
"What we are hypothesizing is, if these networks of actors are fragmented, this will lead to a set of plans and policies that are conflicting," said Ali Mostafavi, a Texas A&M professor of civil engineering, who is heading the four-year, $2 million study funded by the National Science Foundation. "Conflicting plans and policies lead to the development of infrastructure investments that do not effectively reduce vulnerability."
The development of Houston’s Grand Parkway, a giant, partially built third loop around the city, is an example of conflicting plans that led to unintended consequences, said Mostafavi.
It was built to reduce traffic congestion, but project planners may not have considered how new commercial and residential development near the loop reduced green space and ultimately affected how water drains during flooding, he said.
The project’s research team includes Arnold Vedlitz, professor and Bob Bullock Chair in Government and Public Policy at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, and Bjorn Birgisson, professor of civil engineering.
The project is just one of Berke and Woodruff’s many scholarly initiatives.
In his teaching and research, Berke emphasizes active learning, critical thinking, and real-world applications of urban planning concepts and issues.
One of the nation’s leading land use and environmental hazard scholars, Berke’s numerous publications include a credit as co-author of "Natural Hazard Mitigation: Recasting Disaster Policy and Planning." selected by the American Planning Association as one of the 100 Essential Books in Planning for the 20th Century.
Woodruff, whose research focuses on how planning can better address environmental and climatic change, is also leading a study quantifying and comparing several U.S. cities’ hazard resilience policies.