Cities and Natural Disasters

Cities are constantly in a state of change. One of the inevitable parts of many changes is the fact that they cannot be controlled or predicted. A literal example of this type of change is the ever present threat of natural disasters. This specific type of change occurred this past Sunday (May 20,2012) in the beautiful historic city of Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region when a 6.0 magnitude earthquake rattled the cobblestone streets.

Italy is a romantic place full of differing flavors and accents in every city. Preserving these unique accents that combined make Italy the beautiful hotbed for culture that it is, is necessary. But, when disaster strikes such as this dreadfully recent earthquake, what can one do? How Italy’s Emilia-Romagna and other cities around the world react proves an import character trait of cities as a whole.

In Finale Emilia-Romagna the destruction was painful and very visible. According to Mark Byrnes (a writer for “The earthquake left behind an estimated €200 million in damages to the local agricultural and livestock industries and as many as 4,000 people homeless.” The earthquake also left seven dead in it’s wake.

The pictures and Mark Byrnes article can be found on this link and show the extend of the damage:

I found this tragic tale from out twitter Urban Studies List page.

As you can see, it is absolutely catastrophic and has destroyed not only buildings and land many centuries old, but it murdered humans as well. The first picture shows a majestic clock tower that was split in half. The next is the Town Hall building with gaping wounds in its walls. The next is a damaged church that was pretty much leveled to the ground, as all that is left is a beautiful wooden door, some dusty white columns, and scratched red walls. The next photo shows the mangled remains of a ceramics factory that is beyond hope, followed by various pictures of members of the community picking up the mess that the Earth’s tremors left behind.

I can’t help but be reminded of not much more than a year ago when our neighboring city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama was met with another unexpected agent of change in the form of a deadly tornado. The tornado ripped the campus and people’s lives apart just like the earthquake in Italy did.

Natural disasters are anything but natural and there is no guaranteed way to predict them or ensure safety from them, but they are an element that always has and always will affect cities. So what does that mean?

I do not believe it means it is futile to avoid them and therefore all hope is lost, but rather looking at what a city does after such an event tells a lot about it. Natural disasters unite cities as they are wholly interdependent and therefore must work together to rebuild and re-grow.

There is an obvious common trait in all the pictures of the Italy earthquake that have people amidst the rubble. They are all working, be it individually or with others, for a common goal: to rebuild their home, their city. And that is why cities will always survive.



Filed under Creative Responses, Links

2 responses to “Cities and Natural Disasters

  1. Thanks for jumping right in! Maybe it was just because of Tyler’s presentation today, but this definitely made me think about Hurricane Katrina as well. Two thoughts if you’d like to continue writing about natural disasters and cities: you could analyze how disasters get described in different reports. Does the language emphasize helplessness, violence, devastation, resilience, history that’s lost? And if you’re interested in artistic responses to disasters, I have two recommendations: Waiting for Godot in New Orleans ( and a Sterling Brown poem about the 1927 Mississippi flood called “Cabaret.”

  2. ecc0009

    With having Tuscaloosa so close to Auburn and even New Orleans just a few hours away, it makes natural disasters close to home for me, even though I do not live in either city. It is interesting to think about how natural disasters have affected these cities as a whole. The obvious is the fact that when a natural disaster occurs, it tremendously changes the look of a city. The point you made about how it brings cities closer together is very true. Whenever something bad happens, typically the people of those places unite as one trying to figure out how to fix the helplessness that they are feeling. The sad part and what was especially seen during Hurricane Katrina was the looting and other problems that come during these trying times. Although it is a time for people to come together, natural disasters can really change people. It is so hard to imagine what it would be like having to uproot yourself from your city because something like a natural disaster has driven you out. Enjoyed this post!

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