With the recent impact of hurricanes in Houston and another barreling down on the US, many minds are on how to make more resilient housing solutions. This article looks at how other areas of the world, like The Netherlands, have developed a culture that responds to the water surrounding them. What lessons can we learn?

Rives Taylor, a principal at the architecture firm Gensler and a 40-plus-year resident of Houston, is lucky.

His home in Houston Heights, an older neighborhood northwest of downtown, was spared from Hurricane Harvey’s flooding. Part of that is due to the natural topography of the area–its elevation is few feet higher than downtown–and that his pier-and-beam house is three feet off the ground. But what’s also remarkable about his neighborhood is that it isn’t connected to the city’s vast network of underground storm sewers. Rainwater flows directly into nearby ditches where it eventually seeps back into the earth.

This type of flood management strategy more closely mimics the natural water cycle–an approach called “low-impact development.” Also known as “green infrastructure,” it means designing systems that allow urban runoff to naturally infiltrate the soil instead of channeling it into pipes and storm drains. This strategy isn’t new, but it’s still viewed as “alternative” to the way most cities were designed in the 19th and 20th centuries.

“Passive approaches [to flood management] are always the key,” Taylor says of low-impact development. “You can’t always have people putting in flood walls and pump systems–it has to be smart without an expert involvement. Our challenge is being passively smart.”

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