News Environment In the Face of Catastrophic Flooding, This Movement Urges ‘Constructive Destruction’ By rethinking our built environment, we can create opportunities for water to seep into the ground during extreme rainwater events. By Sami Grover Sami Grover Twitter Writer University of Hull University of Copenhagen Sami Grover is a writer and self-described “environmental do-gooder,” now advising community organizations. Learn about our editorial process Updated July 21, 2021 03:54PM EDT Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checked by Haley Mast LinkedIn Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a freelance writer, fact-checker, and small organic farmer in the Columbia River Gorge. She enjoys gardening, reporting on environmental topics, and spending her time outside snowboarding or foraging. Topics of expertise and interest include agriculture, conservation, ecology, and climate science. Learn about our fact checking process Share Twitter Pinterest Email A general view of the destruction following severe flooding after heavy rainfall on July 17, 2021 in Belgium. Olivier Matthys/Getty Images News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices News Archive Record-breaking rain in Zhengzhou, the capital of central China's Henan province, led to catastrophic flooding on Tuesday. People and cars were being swept away, others were trapped in subway carriages, or struggling to get out of stairwells. At present, more than 100,000 people have been evacuated from the region and at least 12 people have died. This disaster comes on the heels of Europe's recent catastrophic floods in western Germany and Belgium caused by severe rainfall. In Germany alone, reports NBC, 749 are injured, 300 people are missing and nearly 200 lives have been lost. The floods have also affected Switzerland, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. It really is the stuff of climate nightmares. And it’s easy to feel helpless in the face of the human-caused chaos now unleashed on our climatic systems. Yet just as the decline of the Amazon is largely a story of human influence—not inevitable and irreversible natural forces—catastrophic flooding is something we can choose to tackle too. Yes, the climate is going to keep warming. Yes, we need to cut and eventually reverse emissions to limit how bad things get. But we can also choose to work with nature, and we can learn to live with water. Enter the “Depave Movement.” Treehugger has long had an interest in rainwater harvesting, porous paving, and stormwater gardens. By rethinking our built environment, we can create opportunities for water to seep into the ground during extreme rainwater events—and often sequester carbon and promote biodiversity in the process too. What the Depave Movement does, however, is it takes these individual water management strategies and deploys them through a lens of community building and social justice. Because just like air pollution, the urban heat island effect, and other environmental ills, the impact of flooding and toxic groundwater pollution is rarely shared equally. Depave—one of the community groups that is pioneering this movement—is focused on reclaiming over-paved spaces in Portland, Oregon. Bringing together staff and volunteers for what it describes as “constructive destruction”, the organization partners with host sites each year to demolish un- or under-used pavement, and instead design, fund, and install a range of permeable community spaces that include play-scapes, parks, and community gardens. The group states: Depave empowers disenfranchised communities to overcome social and environmental injustices and adapt to climate change through urban re-greening. Depave transforms over-paved places, creates resilient community greenspaces, promotes workforce development and education, and advocates for policy change to undo manifestations of systemic racism. According to their 2019 Impact Report, the group has depaved over 220,000 square feet over the past 12 years, collecting stormwater runoff from over 500,000 square feet of adjacent impervious areas. All together, their work has reduced annual stormwater runoff by a whopping 15,840,000 gallons. And while this group focuses its efforts in the Pacific Northwest, it has also published a free guidebook—called "How to Depave: The Guide to Freeing Your Soil"—which is intended to provide insights for others who are setting out on this journey. Of course, in a rational world, we would currently have local, regional, and national governments employing armies of local people ready to break up some hardscape, and start the process of healing and actively managing our watersheds. In the meantime, however, local, grassroots action can help kickstart awareness of just how much the overbuilt environment is costing us. As the videos from Zhengzhou reveal, learning to live with water is no longer just a good idea or a nice thing to do for the planet. In an age of increasingly extreme weather, it is a matter of community survival. View Article Sources "Impact Report 2019." Depave, 2019.