FLOOD | After the flood …

Posted on 19/01/2011


A squillion stories are unfolding after the flood that hit my home city of Brisbane peaked. Over the past few days, my mind has been racing, filled with images and reports about this event. There’s been a constant stream of issues and problems hitting flood affected areas and communities: health, housing, food, environment, habitat, economy etc. Yesterday, I was confronted with images of landfill activity with 1000 trucks per day dumping rubbish in one landfill site as a result of the floods. There’s a kind of contradiction in this idea of the ‘big clean up’. This morning, it was the impact on marine ecologies; the threats to rare dugongs and turtles on one hand and on the other a possible bumper fishing and prawning haul in months to come. The gamut of problems is broad, deep and overwhelming. Responses come to mind, albeit in a fragmented way. There’s a need for a concerted social innovation push.

It’s reported that 28,000 houses are pegged for demolition. People may be in transitional accommodation for a long time. Where will they live? Do we need to establish ‘refugee camps’ rather than evacuation centres? There is challenge in retaining population as industry and commerce find their feet again.

Where can we find underutilised adaptable housing stock that has some semblance of amenity? eg McMansions not flood impacted can probably accommodate multiple families, an empty university campus at Carseldine, parks, backyards or carparks that can take secure and comfortable temporary shelters, disused military housing, hotels and motels of all kinds. Perhaps even on the water, akin to the Gall & Medek/QCA Design Futures program submission to the Gold Coast Design Competition. Any others? GetUp has launched an emergency national housing drive to connect empty beds with flood affected Australians who could use a place to stay while their homes are repaired or rebuilt. You can post your offer of housing (a spare room or an extra bed) and search for available housing online at: http://www.OzFloodHelp.org.au

What will we do about housing affordability? Heard some reports that some rents more than doubled in a weekend (the report I heard, albeit by word of mouth, was that rent jumped from $800 per week to $2000 per week – for that kind of money, many people would be better off staying in motels and hotels or leaving). This is a major issue in Brisbane, and NIMBY communities constantly oppose affordable housing and social housing developments. Interestingly, I note that the key workers – eg emergency services workers, police, teachers, factory workers and the like – are already squeezed out of Brisbane’s housing market as buyers and renters. What might responsive and responsible development look like? Reclaiming flood affected areas to rehabilitate riparian environments. Reclaim areas where flooding can be mitigated/negated and think beyond infill to more sustainable, integrated and form-based approaches. Land bank whole flood affected neighbourhoods and rebuild better. Build smaller houses, increase density, create better commons.Then there’s heritage and character issues. How many Queenslanders are we prepared to lose in the name of resilience and environmental sustainability? Can the city afford to retain this colonial character suburbs along the river banks?

What role can the ULDA, an agency that facilitates the development of affordable housing, play in the recovery? From a communication and community engagement, can we trigger a YIMBY response so that more communities get behind different approaches to urban development and social inclusion? This points to a different kind of community conversation about climate, built environment and planning – an interesting article by David Roberts and various links in Grist about these issues. While not enamoured with the term ‘ruggedising’, I appreciate the perspective that these are hard issues to communicate, as someone who works in that kind of communication space. Urban resilience is a subject that doesn’t readily find its way into our conversations about development and planning, and at times, the conversation can be quite unproductive and confused as it was leading up to the summit about population growth.

Some folk on Twitter were talking about revitalising Goodna through a concerted #renewGoodna effort, a community badly affected by flooding. Goodna is an active outer suburban low income, culturally diverse community located about 20km from Brisbane in the Ipswich local government area. Build on the history and strengths of communities – plan renewal around established social inclusion, cultural diversity and enterprise strengths rather than makeshift clustering, create opportunities for catalysts and innovations too. Check out Dandenong’s renewal program.

Relocalisation and networking. Heard some great stories about people self-organising and sharing scarce resources until help could get to them. They formed their own on the ground networks for cleaning up. As food supplies dried up – creating a temporary food desert – people sent word out through social networks to find out about stocked supermarkets in other areas. This is an indicator of capacity and resilience. See Dan Hill’s piece on the Brisbane flood in which he discusses post-traumatic urbanism and how relocalisation comes into its own when large scale systems (like transport and distribution) are disrupted by disaster and conflict. Hill has folded many other ideas into that essay too. Localised and micro responses to resource use can be powerful. For example, during the drought – the big dry – we became adept home based harvesters of stormwater and this enabled households to keep their gardens going during periods of water use restrictions. In a similar vein, there was also the groups of pro-am stormwatchers who issued early warnings of pending issues in the region.

How to embed responsive and responsible development principles, as foundational to resilience, across the breadth of the development industry from buyer to developer to Council. Think beyond CSR and markets – think social value, impact and legacy. I’ve written some articles addressing this including a piece on Community Benefits Agreements in the USA and a limited overview of corporate responsibility in the development industry as below. More to come on this as the calls for the development industry to ‘step up’ – especially after the nonsense of projects like North Bank – are likely to sound.

As for us, and it’s a small gesture, in the days to come we will be developing an initiative called Re:Grow as a changescaping experiment, aiming to connect gardners with those who need to rehabilitate their gardens after the flood, including community gardens. After the heavy rains of the last few weeks, our vege patch turned to mush. We’ve learned another lesson about what grows in our climate – Asian greens particularly flourished. A small group of gardeners are getting together to provide healthy and organic seedlings to flood affected folk – we will have of natives, vegetables and herbs to give away. On the weekend we planted 120 seeds including golden penda and bottlebrush with some herbs and vegetables to come. My mother has been saving seeds from her basil and rocket for years. Through this we hope to encourage sustainable and sub-tropical gardening as well as the planting of simple vege patches to ease the costs as our local food prices rise. Perhaps residents, who are able to remain in or return to their homes, will be thinking about their gardens in a month or two after they’ve dealt with more immediate concerns.

Posted in: Uncategorized