The Triumph of the Engineers – Was Superstorm Sandy a wake-up call?
At their peak, flood-waters from Sandy crested in New York City at 14 feet above normal, leaving thousands homeless and millions without power. The damages may total over $40 billion dollars. Many are asking whether it is possible to adapt to increased storm risks due to rising sea levels and increasing urban density. The experiences of other coastal cities may prove instructive as city planners seek to adapt.
For decades countries have built storm barriers to protect against a storm surge. This brute-force approach is simple: keep the water out. In England, the Thames River has massive storm barriers that have been closed 75 times in the past 10 years. Venice has a series of underwater gates that can be raised to isolate the Venetian lagoon from the Adriatic Sea.
But these approaches can be overwhelmed by higher sea levels. Rather than keeping water out, some cities are finding ways to ride out the rising storms.
The Dutch have experimented by building floating houses. Some homes rise up to 20 feet, riding on buoyant hollow concrete foundations, while moored in place. They have their utilities—electricity, water, sewer—provided via flexible, hollow pipes. In Japan, urban engineers have burrowed deep under Tokyo to construct nine huge subterranean reservoirs, along with 15 massive catch-basins at street level that double as parks and stadiums during normal times.
These adaptations continue the tradition of engineering solutions to environmental problems—something we’ve been doing for millennia. It’s a testimony to human ingenuity—and to nature’s continuing challenges.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer
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