Cities That Used Natural Disasters to Revitalize Their Futures (Governing Magazine)

♦ Tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and snowstorms can land with a harsh and terrible swiftness. Scientists who study meteorology warn that climate change will only increase the severity of some extreme weather events in the future, namely flooding, snowstorms and hurricanes.

While cities deal with the losses associated with these natural disasters, they face the huge task of rebuilding and the frustrating wait for federal and state money to help with the effort. But some cities take on an additional challenge: They make a post-disaster leap from replacing to revitalizing.

Obviously, there’s little comfort in the wake of devastation, but essential to the idea is that in disaster there can be opportunity. Millions in federal, state and local disaster dollars can be leveraged into billions in additional investment from the private sector. That approach, however, takes more time, a lot of patience and a dose of creativity. Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Greensburg, Kansas; and San Francisco, California are just some of the Cities who’ve learned how to turn local tragedy into a new and vibrant vision. Their lessons on leveraging funds, dealing with local sentiment – the longing to replace rather than remake – are a playbook for local officials dealing with today’s disasters. Whether it’s localities in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut that were pummeled last year by Hurricane Sandy and its wind-driven flooding, or tornado-alley cities like Moore, Oklahoma., still reeling from the wreckage of this year’s storm season, these lessons hold suggestions for disasters of today and tomorrow, and for the next officials to join the disaster club.

Nearly one year after Superstorm Sandy tore through much of the Northeastern shoreline, officials in the states most devastated by the wreckage are experiencing firsthand the painfully slow process of obtaining federal funding and rebuilding. “The bureaucracy has been the biggest frustration,” says Amy Engel, executive director of the nonprofit Sustainable Long Island, which is involved in the city of Long Beach, N.Y.’s rebuilding effort. “It’s this horrible dance between the insurance companies and the federal government.”

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