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Learning From Disasters: The Synergy of Law and Geography

March 2008

Citation: ELR 10150

Author: Rutherford H. Platt

Editor's Summary: Historically, regulatory approaches to natural disaster mitigation have been created in the aftermath of specific disasters. For instance, the world's first city building code was created in the wake of the Great Fire of London, and the U.S. Congress enacted flood control rules for the Lower Mississippi after the Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927. In this Article, Rutherford H. Platt discusses how natural disasters have informed society's understanding of natural resource management and land use planning over the last several centuries. He examines the evolution of single use policies into multiple use management, deconstructs federal disaster policies, and advocates for ecological cities. He concludes with a reminder to address natural disaster mitigation--indeed, all of modern urban planning--with comprehensive policies addressing the full range of urban needs.

Rutherford H. Platt is Professor Emeritus of Geography at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Cities, City University of New York. This Article was prepared prior to Hurricane Katrina and does not reflect policy changes, if any, since then. [Editors' Note: This Article appears in the book Losing Ground: A Nation on Edge, edited by John R. Nolon & Daniel B. Rodriguez, published in 2007 by the Environmental Law Institute (ELI). The book can be ordered by either calling 800-433-5120 or logging on to the ELI website at http://www.eli.org.]

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