Natural Hazards

, Volume 53, Issue 3, pp 605–629 | Cite as

New Urbanist developments in flood-prone areas: safe development, or safe development paradox?

  • Mark R. StevensEmail author
  • Yan Song
  • Philip R. Berke


Government policies intended to reduce flood losses can increase the potential for catastrophe by stimulating development inside the floodplain, a phenomenon referred to as the “safe development paradox.” New Urbanist design has the potential to both exacerbate and alleviate flood risks. Because they are built at relatively high densities, New Urbanist developments can exacerbate risk by placing more people and property in harm’s way. Conversely, New Urbanist design features theoretically better enable designers of New Urbanist developments to avoid floodplain portions of project sites than designers of conventional subdivisions. Using a sample of New Urbanist developments in the US that contain floodplain portions within their boundaries, this paper focuses on whether and why these developments locate built structures inside the floodplain. The authors find that roughly 30% of the developments locate structures inside the floodplain, and that the odds of locating structures inside the floodplain increase with the proportion of the project site located inside the floodplain and decrease with the presence of government policies that prohibit residential development in the floodplain. The authors also identify confusion among government planners regarding the distinction between pre and postconstruction floodplain boundaries. A subset of New Urbanist developments is found to have built structures located outside the postconstruction floodplain boundary, but inside the preconstruction floodplain boundary. This finding is cited as an example of the “safe development paradox” in action. The authors recommend changes in New Urbanist design codes and local government floodplain management to increasingly direct new development away from the floodplain.


Flood hazards Safe development paradox New Urbanism Land use planning 



This work was supported by the National Science Foundation [NSF Grant # CMS-0407720]. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. We are grateful to two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Community and Regional PlanningUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  2. 2.Department of City and Regional PlanningUniversity of North Carolina-Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  3. 3.Institute for the EnvironmentUniversity of North Carolina-Chapel HillChapel HillUSA

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