I have posted today an article on the dilemmas and indecision on the reconstruction after the Japanese earthquake.
Elderly people want to stay in the villages, but should the State or local government subsidise the rebuilding of schools and infrastructure at areas of high risk. Many local planners would wish to reconstruct villages and districts of towns on higher ground, but insurance alone will not pay for the costs of the new land and the remodelling of areas which are very steep slopes.
How then do you begin to reconcile these interests. Such extreme events illustrate how it is often not possible to expect a consensus to emerge from consultation before the design work can begin. It is incumbent on professionals to come up with design solutions, spatial solutions, to help inform the public debate.
I know a few planning students read this blog so i’ll set down a few pointers on how to begin to shape a strategy for recovery from a major natural disaster. There has been some recent papers on recovery planning – such as from the Commonwealth – and William Ramoth’s excellent book is a standard text – however to my mind they are generally based on the assumption that you rebuild much as before to higher building standards. Very little has been written on the strategic choices on where to build, though there is considerable international practice in this area, such as the plan’s for Jakarta to clear away many parts of the city at greatest risk of flooding and replace with Green Infrastructure. So i’ll suggest the outlines of a potential approach.
1. Understand the lie of the land – what are the strategic issues that affect the whole disaster area The areas affected by the Japanese Earthquake seem to be split between two different areas. Firstly mountainous coastlines with very small fluvial plains which are typically occupied in whole or part by fishing villages. These villages were particularly devastated. Secondly larger towns on a rising coastal plan between the sea and mountains, typically 2-3 km wide. Generally the km closest to the sea has been devastated and the areas beyond survive.With the exception of power infrastructure relatively little national infrastructure seems to have been hit. The impact on railway infrastructure seemed extensive, 325km of conventional lines washed away by the tsunami, but the system was designed with earthquake resilience in mind and the speed of railway reconstruction has been rapid. Any strategy will need to discriminate between the genuinely national issues, relating to funding, resilience standards and national infrastructure – and local issues. This suggests a broad framework rather than a single masterplan.
2. Understand the Risks, Prospects and Costs Techniques of societal risk assesment are now fairly well advanced and it should be possible to assess the costs of reconstruction in place against the risks of a 1:100, 1:50 years etc. events. It also should be possible to evaluate the tax take from the rebuilt communities, understanding that many are aging and many residents will not come back. By setting new minimum resilience standards, and testing against a range of possible standards, it should be possible to assess the extra costs.
3. Weigh the Opportunities and Costs Settlement by Settlement Some of the settlements have railway stations, on lines constructed at great costs through mountainous tunnels. It makes little sense reconstructing these villages a km or two way in the mountains if people cant walk to the station. Here if the risks of devastation are remote then they might be worth taking. Similarly if there is no station the balance may favour reconstruction at higher grade. However for schools, old folks homes etc the risks may be too high and it makes sense to reconstruct these at safer locations. Similarly some villages may have flood defences which it is economic to reconstruct at safer resiliency levels, some may not. For a fishing village it makes sense to have some associated infrastructure and industry associated with the harbour, but that does not mean that housing has to be constructed there. A solution similar to many southern Italian towns where the villages are separate from their mare sections (in their case because of slaver raids) may make sense. If some older residents wish to remain by the sea that is there choice but there may be less of a case to use state infrastructure subsidies if the properties remain at high risk. The state should subsidise reconstruction at higher grounds of it helps maintain the integrity of communities, but if these communities have no long term economic future with the decline of fishing then for some it may be better to encourage relocation to town with better prospects. For some fluvial plain area where it is too risky to reconstruct it may make sense to create additional, and rare in Japan, agricultural land. In towns the same. It may make sense to redevelop many coastal town seafronts as Green Infrastructure and shift the centre of the towns gravity in terms of development eastwards. So for each settlement a matrix of possibilities presents itself, develop in place, abandon, split between harbours and main villages or rebuild away from the highest risk areas. A national framework may suggest how much state funding should be committed to each option but the final choice should be left to local communities, unless the risks and costs are unreasonable.