Jonah Bea-Taylor PhD Defense
Jonah will be presenting his thesis titled “Flood Control and Metropolitan Development in Houston, Miami, and Tampa, 1935-1985”.
This dissertation seeks to add to scholarship on the roots of structural vulnerability to the impact of climate change on low-lying regions of the United States. This research focuses on three Southeastern cities – Houston, Miami, and Tampa – that are particularly vulnerable to the repercussions of climate change because of their successful development on coastal plains. Although hurricanes did bring flooding to Southeastern Texas and South Florida in the past, it was fresh water overflowing from rivers, bayous and wetlands that was the primary concern of city boosters in the 20th century. The rapid development of Houston, Miami and Tampa - from small cities into major regional centers in the decades after World War Two - depended on federally-sponsored systems of canals, dams, and reservoirs for controlling floods and supplying fresh water.
There was a similar sequence of events that were repeated a little more than a decade apart in each city: A major flood galvanized civic leaders to lobby for federal funding for flood control. Infrastructure designed by the Army Corps of Engineers to protect the cities took between one and two decades to complete; rapid growth coincided with construction of levees, dams, and pumping stations, land values increased, and environmental concerns became more prominent in each location. These factors combined ultimately led to critical modifications of the flood control systems.
All three flood control projects have been highly “successful” – in the sense that they prevented a recurrence of the same floods that motivated the construction of protective works. But Houston, Miami, and Tampa were less successful at anticipating the scale of future development and the unintended consequences it created. Flood control helped stabilize a trajectory of rapid growth that was already underway in each city. By managing a natural hazard, it helped each city fulfill its destiny as a regional center. But that destiny had the unforeseen effect of making it much harder to complete the flood control projects as originally designed. As suburbs expanded, land values in rural areas increased in all three cities, forcing modifications to earlier plans for large-scale infrastructure. This process unfolded over about 15 years in each city. The most effective, comprehensive, sometimes over-confident, design could not be fully implemented because it became too expensive to acquire rights-of-way. The cities were thus locked into dealing with the vulnerabilities of rapid development and an incomplete flood control system.
Steven Usselman, Advisor
Jenny Smith, Division of Humanities, The Hong Kong University of Science and TechnologyJohn Lonnquest, Office of History, US Army Corps of Engineers