Back-to-back earthquakes in Southern California earlier this month are creating a sharpened focus on communities’ ability to recover from large temblors. In a paper published March 2019 in an academic journal, a group of scholars including Robert Brown, Texas A&M professor of landscape architecture, said that open spaces such as parks, plazas and even street design could strengthen a community's recovery from an earthquake.
“The lack of large, open space in the urban environment can lead to an increase in injury and death following an earthquake,” said Brown and a group of scholars in the paper, published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction.
The paper details Brown and his colleagues’ review of existing research investigating landscape architecture planning and design related to seismic resilience, and their guidelines for design professionals to better incorporate seismic resilience into their work.
In the past, noted Brown and his fellow researchers, residents displaced by damage have converged on public parks and open spaces.
“Immediate needs such as evacuation, medical assistance, communication, social gathering, shelter and distribution of food and water are often addressed in a city's open space,” said Brown. For open spaces to better support post-disaster response and recovery, he said, landscape architects need additional design guidelines to support post-disaster response and recovery.
Although interest is building, said the authors, in using open space as an active component in supporting seismic resilience, there is little to no consolidation of research about how to design public open space to support response and recovery in the aftermath of an earthquake.
There is a growing urgency, said Brown, to create or fortify existing open space to support response and recovery efforts because by 2050, population in major cities at risk of earthquakes is expected to double as people continue to develop in areas that act as natural hazard buffers, said Brown.
“What residents find when they arrive in these spaces after an earthquake will depend on the integration and alignment of emergency needs and a collective willingness to proactively mitigate hazards rather than over-rely on post-disaster response,” he said.
The paper, “Designing Public Open Space to Support Seismic Resilience: A Systematic Review,” was authored by Brown, Emily L. French and Karen Landman of the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development in the University of Guelph, and Jeff Birchall of the School of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Alberta.