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 Phillip Rollfing  

Hurricane Relief

“Surge Parks” can provide needed respite for disaster victims, says LAUP professor


Hurricanes dramatically demonstrated last year they can displace entire communities, driving them far from their familiar environments, and those demonstrations have prompted Texas A&M University landscape architecture professor Jody Naderi’s novel idea for “surge parks” that could smooth such evacuees’ adjustments to their new situations.

“The idea for surge parks came from the surge hospital concept,” Naderi says. “Just as surge hospitals are designed to convert existing structures to handle a massive influx of sick and injured persons generated by a natural disaster, surge parks are intended to ‘pop up’ in open areas around these facilities. The surge park can be used as pleasant settings for evacuees waiting in line for food or medical services, as outdoor communication centers, as recreation sites for children, as picnic grounds more inviting than food lines, for meditation and spiritual renewal and as places to grieve their losses.”

Surge parks would serve different functions during the different stages of recovery from a disaster, Naderi explains. After people’s immediate needs for shelter from wind and rain, which usually last up to 24 hours after a disaster strikes, their attention turns to seeking more long-term evacuation shelters, where they may stay for 2 to 14 days. Temporary housing during large-scale reconstruction may be needed for as long as 18 months, while long-term replacement and more hurricane-resistant housing is constructed.

Surge parks would be most important during the time people are housed in evacuation shelters, Naderi notes, although temporary housing during rebuilding should also take into account the importance of green spaces.

Naderi feels her ideas for the parks help take her teaching to the “cutting edge.” Her design studio students are working on an urban design project to help Key West residents plan for future hurricane seasons.

“This hurricane season, 25 percent of Key West’s total available housing was impacted,” Naderi said. “The communities there have asked us to use our expertise to design hurricane-resistant subdivisions, as well as to help them plan for living through the next disaster with dignity. My students are presenting designs for a village that could ‘snap into place’ in a state park already wired for 2,000 temporary homes. In addition, we are exploring the concept of a ‘pop-up’ park that could be transported to a site in a trailer and essentially unfolded into an open space near where evacuees are being housed or treated.”

But Naderi tries to teach her students to remember that disaster victims and evacuees need more than strictly utilitarian facilities. She imagines surge parks as possible “gardens of spiritual renewal” and oases of beauty for those who have suffered devastating loss.

“I want my students to create surge parks that use landscape as art,” she says. “I want them to commit to creating places of beauty and pause that will contribute to people’s recovery from such stressful events.”

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Jody Rosenblatt Naderi