When I was a kid in the 1950s, my dad expressed disdain for people so poor they'd build on riverbanks prone to flooding ("The stages of disaster," HCN, 4/28/14). High ground was the motto for his dream home, perched on the stable bluffs of the Minnesota River.
In 1978, I arrived in Tucson, Arizona, a town circumscribed by washes that filled and emptied, hungry, muddy floodwater gnawing at their banks. Nobody built there, until somebody did. We watched those houses collapse and tumble into a roar of floodwater in 1983. And again, I think, in 1991. Meanwhile, developers platted huge tracts on the old floodplains south of town, thinking them safe, as drought gripped ever tighter.
Then, after the Catalina Mountains burned in two spectacular fires, wiping out the log cabins of the old hippies, the nouveau riche built McMansions on the ashes, betting the forest wouldn't burn again for a comfortably long time. And if it did, well, unlike their predecessors, they'd be insured.
But who pays for the losses of the risk-takers? Money has talked too loudly in city council chambers and in legislatures, and cash-hungry governments are eager to pass the risks along to the unwary. The political will to stop overdevelopment has been MIA for 30 years. What tactics do we still have to idle the bulldozers, the front-end loaders? How do we turn down the volume on money?