American Planning Association

North Carolina Chapter

Message from our President – October 2018

Kenneth Bowers, AICP

Chapter President

Hurricane Florence will go down as one of the worst storms in North Carolina history. Many communities along the major rivers and in coastal areas received their worst flooding in history, and many of those same communities had yet to recover from the flooding of Hurricane Matthew, less than two years ago. At the time of writing, 39 people in North Carolina and 50 in total have lost their lives to the storm. Property damages will be in the tens of billions, and many families will lack to resources to rebuild or relocate their homes.

The three themes of APA-NC’s chapter plan are resiliency, affordable housing, and equity. Florence has to impact how we think about all three. We know that many of the most impacted communities and individuals are low-income and people of color. Many of them lived in areas at higher risk of flooding because land is cheaper there. Now that their houses are damaged or destroyed, they will face severe challenges securing decent housing at an affordable price in a safer location—many have been rendered homeless. And while retreat from the highest hazard areas is a sound concept, these at-risk towns and cities are not going to disappear, and they need better tools and practices to survive future storms.

In the face of this much destruction, displacement, and loss of life, the role of planning may seem small, dwarfed by the powerful economic forces that set the stage for this disaster, from the demand for coastal real estate to the ever growing appetite for the fossil fuels that are changing our climate and making these types of storms more likely. We may feel we lack the tools to adequately respond to the challenge of rebuilding. Yet, this is a wakeup call, if we needed another, that tells us that business as usual is not sustainable.

Talking about climate change is no longer in fashion, yet we cannot ignore the reality that a 500-year storm every one to two years is not normal. Storing coal ash and hog manure in open ponds likely to breach during a major tropical storm may seem convenient and cost-effective, but can we continue to tolerate the impacts to our rivers and estuaries if such storms become more frequent? Our system of flood maps and flood insurance are no longer up to the challenge of our changing climate, but what replaces them? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but as a Chapter they must inform our work going forward.

The impact of Florence on our annual North Carolina Planning Conference was very mild by comparison. Because of the impending storm, many of our registrants could not make it, particularly those from the coasts and coastal plain. Attendance was down, but 270 registered attendees were able to enjoy three-fourths of our original conference program. We are currently reviewing the financial impact of the storm on our chapter and will be making adjustments accordingly. If Wilmington is still able to host us next year, the impacts of Florence will surely be center stage when we gather in 2019.

At the end of this year, I will be handing the reigns over to our incoming President Ben Howell. In my next update, I hope to look back on my term and share some insights as to where Ben will be leading the Chapter next. I am looking forward to staying involved and advocating for good planning across North Carolina.