The powerful punch of Hurricane Harvey did more than knock us to the canvas. It put into perspective the inadequacy of man made defenses when pitted against the forces of nature.
High-tech water treatment plants, 500 year flood plains, reservoirs, and flood control systems were neutralized by Harvey in one day. Steel and concrete alone were not enough.
Over the vast sweep of history, no cities, regardless of their advanced design, have weathered the ravages of time and nature. Rome burned.
What do we have in common with these lost civilizations? They thought they could engineer their way to invincibility. That ever grander creations, like the Greek Parthenon or the Roman Coliseum, would stand forever as cornerstones of society. They were wrong, and so were we.
In Harvey’s wake, we were left stranded on the rooftops of our grandiose swankiendas, awaiting rescue by a legion of big-wheeled tractors and backyard bass boats rumbling down I-10 toward, not away from, the flood waters that engulfed us.
This navy of misfits was not comprised of architects or land planners, nor characterized by race, political preference, or economic status. They were ordinary folks whose selfless actions cannot be explained by psychological theory nor marginalized by hope for personal gain.
The necessity for their Dunkirk-style rescue highlights how badly we over-estimated our physical abilities in controlling natural disasters, and underestimated the importance of a more fundamental human trait–the one element that mankind has yet to incorporate into its design of great cities.
Malcolm D. Gibson
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