When Hurricane Harvey displaced 30,000 people in Houston and Hurricane Irma threw the lives of millions into disarray across Florida and the Carribean, the storms became the latest warning signs that there are serious limitations to the urban sustainability and resilience movements. In what may now be a regular call-and-response to major hurricanes making landfall, Harvey led many to point out the role land use planning played in exacerbating the damage and the inequities associated with those impacted the most. With more storms coming, these arguments should be part of our regular political debate at all levels.
Why have decades of effort to make cities more sustainable not affected outcomes in circumstances like Hurricane Harvey? Primarily, because the political project that underlies the concept of urban sustainability has not been seriously addressed. This same problem has extended to the more contemporary concept of resilience and the recent efforts to achieve smart and adaptive cities.