Suburban Sprawl Houston
About the ‘Burbs
I grew up in an early, aging suburb of southwestern Ohio, and I now live in a younger suburb that has engulfed a smaller town outside the city. We moved into a house built in the mid-1970s that backs up to an 83 acre farm. One of the last remaining farms in the area, it is currently being developed with expensive homes by a large developer. The development has eight home layouts from which to choose.
Such development and planning is typical of the suburbs. For better or for worse, suburban areas are developed piecemeal as populations grow and trends rise and fall in various extra-urban areas. The end result is an amorphous growth of residential, commercial, and industrial pockets outside the city center in ever growing concentric areas.
So with that said, let’s look into what characterizes a suburban area. For this, I’ve consulted the semi-omniscient Wikipedia.
Here are some characteristic elements of typical suburbia:
- Shopping malls
- Strip malls
- Property zoning
- High percentage of single-family units
- Higher population density than rural areas, lower than urban areas
What we get with suburbs is a patchwork expanse of residential, commercial, and industrial areas developed upon former farmland, swampland, forest, and grassland as the population centers expanded.
I offer no critique here but rather want to paint a picture of our suburbs for better understanding of infrastructure and continuity throughout. This will provide the basis for measures that can be taken given the existing development. This discussion would be entirely different if we were talking about new urban planning or community design, but instead here we are focusing on what to do with our suburbs as already established.
Here are some resulting characteristics of stormwater management in the suburbs:
- Tributary creeks with eroding banks
- High percentage runoff from roofs, lawns, and pavement
- Need for irrigation
- Sewer overflows
- Flash flooding
- Drought conditions
What we can do
As is the case in nearly all human developments, stormwater in the suburbs is designed to leave the developed area as quickly as possible. Clean water use within buildings is designed as single use.
The following strategies are designed for the opposite effect: to hold and absorb as much water into the landscape and to layer as many uses as possible within buildings.
With the implementation of these strategies in a way that incorporates a holistic design process, the result is a designed suburban landscape that is capable of supporting environmental health through reduced erosion, increased water absorption, and increased buffering capacity of temperature and moisture.
How we do it
As the management strategies differ with each land use type, I’ll discuss each separately. That is, what we do in a residential area differs from a commercial area, from industrial and public areas. Each space has unique characteristics.
Stormwater Management for All Land Uses
Lose the Lawn