Arts & Humanities

More Parks Can Lessen The Blow Of Earthquakes

A team of researchers found that more open spaces like parks and plazas can help mitigate earthquake damage.
By Richard Nira, Texas A&M University College of Architecture August 13, 2019

6.4 Magnitude Earthquake Rattles Southern California
A local resident inspects a fissure in the earth after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck the area on July 4, 2019 near Ridgecrest, California.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

As the back-to-back earthquakes in Southern California showed the world last month, earthquakes can put lives at risk and wreak havoc on a community’s infrastructure.

As state and local governments seek prepare for the next quake and populations move into areas intended to be earthquake buffer zones, a team of researchers that includes a Texas A&M University landscape architect has a solution: build more parks.

“The lack of large, open space in the urban environment can lead to an increase in injury and death following an earthquake,” Texas A&M landscape architecture professor Robert Brown and a trio of Canadian researchers said following a review of existing academic studies on disaster resilience.

The survey, published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, found that open spaces like parks, plazas and better street design could improve a community’s ability to recover from an earthquake.

The paper details Brown and his colleagues’ review of existing research investigating landscape architecture planning and design related to seismic resilience, and their guidelines for design professionals to better incorporate seismic resilience into their work.

In the past, noted Brown and his fellow researchers, residents displaced by damage have converged on public parks and open spaces.

“Immediate needs such as evacuation, medical assistance, communication, social gathering, shelter and distribution of food and water are often addressed in a city’s open space,” Brown said. For open spaces to better support post-disaster response and recovery, he said, landscape architects need additional design guidelines.

The study’s authors argue that although interest in using open space as an active component in supporting seismic resilience is building, there is little to no consolidation of research about how to design public open space to support response and recovery in the aftermath of an earthquake.

Brown noted that there is a sense of urgency among planners to create or fortify existing open space to support response and recovery efforts. The authors point out that populations of major cities at risk from earthquakes will double by 2050.

“What residents find when they arrive in these spaces after an earthquake will depend on the integration and alignment of emergency needs and a collective willingness to proactively mitigate hazards rather than over-rely on post-disaster response,” Brown said.

The paper, “Designing Public Open Space to Support Seismic Resilience: A Systematic Review,” was authored by Brown, Emily L. French and Karen Landman of the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development in the University of Guelph, and Jeff Birchall of the School of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Alberta.

This article by Richard Nira originally appeared in ArchOne.

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