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Rebuilding for Sustainability

rebuildingfema.jpgI found a website with detailed plans describing how communities devastated by natural disasters can rebuild in a more sustainable way. The plans, all in PDF, cover matching sustainability concerns to hazard types, the role of the community, even ways to seek US Federal funding for sustainable rebuilding projects. Additional material includes a sustainability glossary, recommended readings, and "quotable materials" on sustainability, starting with "The Wingspread Principles: A Community Vision for Sustainability."

The website for the plans introduces itself in this way:

Repetitive disaster losses diminish our quality of life and divert resources that could be used to address other concerns. Recovery from natural disasters presents a unique opportunity to consider alternatives to the damage-rebuild-damage cycle. These alternatives can help communities rebuild stronger, safer and smarter and thereby become less vulnerable to disasters. Communities can also use this opportunity to become more sustainable by integrating hazard mitigation strategies with other community objectives related to economic health, environmental stability, and social well-being.

The website where I found this treasure trove? The US Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.

(If you're not following the US news cycle, here's why this is notable: FEMA is the government agency ostensibly responsible for organizing disaster response and recovery efforts. It was folded into the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, and its attention turned to post-terrorism recovery, with less attention said to be given to natural disasters. Unsurprisingly, then, FEMA's response to hurricane Katrina was by all accounts unsatisfactory, and the director was let go as of today. Many have criticized the quality of FEMA's leadership over the past couple of weeks, and given all of this, it's hard to remember that FEMA was actually a fairly professionally-operated organization in the 1990s, and that most FEMA employees are diligent, smart people.)

The FEMA website is called Rebuilding for a More Sustainable Future -- An Operational Framework, and each chapter is downloadable as a separate PDF (unfortunately, there isn't a combined single-download document). The document has a publication date of November 1, 2000, indicating that it was produced late in the final months of the outgoing agency leadership. Sadly, the material hasn't been updated since then, and the link to the document -- along with a link to a glossy short overview document, Planning for a Sustainable Future: The Link Between Hazard Mitigation and Livability -- is relegated to the bottom of the "additional resources" section of the Planning Resource Center page.

But no matter -- despite its age, this is terrific stuff, spelling out the links between disaster recovery and economic, environmental and social sustainability. It's exactly the kind of thinking that should be the foundation of reasonable, forward-looking conversations about rebuilding after Katrina, as well as the inevitable disasters to come. That it comes from the efforts of a government agency half a decade ago just underscores its mainstream cred -- this isn't some fringe movement or funky weblog trying to promote the idea of sustainable rebuilding.

Simply put, the very existence of this document bolster the claim that sustainable design -- of buildings, of neighborhoods, of communities -- is very much within our capabilities, and should be part of all kinds of planning efforts. It also makes clear that the US government is well aware that sustainable rebuilding is an option in the post-disaster landscape. We should not accept any future claim that "nobody could have guessed" that sustainable reconstruction was possible.

Comments (5)

Jamais - what a rmarkable - and ironic, unfortunately - find! I'll add it to the "rebuilding New Orleans links I've been putting together. And a quick "thank you" to all of you worldChanging - you're a great resource for the futuring community.

Daniel Haran:

Now wouldn't it be ironic if the mitigation division of FEMA also had its budget slashed after 9/11?


The chief criterion won't be sustainability, it will be how many contracts can be given to Bush's cronies.


the hand of Al Gore was in that, i'd bet. From what I've seen, Mr. Gore tried very hard to input values of sustainability and community into many government policy, planning and response documents. Also, a good many low-level government workers are role models of public service, putting up with bureaucracy and political gamesmanship and incompetent leadership in order to try and effect positive change. Maybe they managed to keep that document available just in case of a moment such as this.
I think the important thing to realize here, though, is that such "prior foundation" documents, regardless of their quality or foresight, will be of little use unless we can get that dialogue on sustainability into the public ear first. or, well, i suppose we could just leapfrog it, write off BushCo, and go promote sustainable NOLA projects among the private/NGO sector.

open project at solaroof.org - there was a previous newsitem on WC - here.

It's not just greenhouses, but places where people can live or welcome tourists interested in visiting the site.

I don't have updates on how things are going re Tsunami reconstruction.


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