Post-earthquake planning and reconstruction

Earthquake rebuilding and reconstruction is a complex issue requiring both haste to re-house and comfort citizens after a huge calamity and sometimes thousands of deaths and great care in the planning of the future across multiple dimensions. These dimensions include geology, hydrology and seismic conditions, the need for sustainable resilient infrastructure across transport, water and sanitation, managing the traumatic psychological impacts in the communities, reducing anxiety and creating comfort, through to urban form, housing and dwelling density and typologies, streets, cultural and heritage factors.

New dimensions of consideration include the future impacts of climate change and its scope for change on future forms over the coming decades, the possible relocation of housing and association to land and place in the mindset of communities, and the decarbonisation of reconstruction efforts, sustainable energy and building back better and sensitively to the heritage and place. The vision must be a resilient community but not to make the errors of post-war reconstruction in many cities of the imposition of modernist or other idealistic styles, which created social, economic and placeless ghettos through over-engineered solutions.

This article discusses the complexities of the planning, engineering, construction and management process along with the communication, collaboration and integration required to bring stakeholders along a shared journey and the challenges to build back better, smarter and fast.

We discuss the use of modern planning tools and simulations through products such as the Urban CGI digital twin technology to allow interactive, real-time optioneering, conversations and photo-real communications across stakeholders to bring everyone on the journey as well as support the myriad trade-offs and discussions that need to be had whilst ensuring a quality, sustainable and resilient urban outcome. This is no simple task and requires advanced technology and responsive services to support the integrated effort in these traumatic times.

What are earthquakes?

Earthquakes, derived from the movement of tectonic plates, are among the most devastating natural disasters, resulting in enormous loss of life and property (Bilham 2009). Understanding these geological phenomena is paramount for managing the recovery and regeneration of urban environments post-disaster (Frazier et al, 2010).

Tectonic plate boundaries are zones of intense geological activity, often associated with earthquakes (Stein & Wysession, 2003). The Earth’s crust, a mosaic of these tectonic plates, is in perpetual motion. Plate interactions are generally hindered by the friction of rubbing against each other. However, over time, the accumulated pressure can overcome the frictional resistance, leading to sudden plate movements, otherwise known as earthquakes (Scholz, 2002).

Fault Lines and Their Influence on Urban Form

Fault lines, the fracture surfaces along which the earthquakes occur, profoundly impact urban planning and development (Yeats, 2012). Cities located near active fault lines are more vulnerable to seismic activities, and thus require careful attention to their structural designs to enhance their resilience (Comerio, 2014).

Considering fault lines in urban reconstruction planning is an imperative to provide opportunities to create safer and more resilient urban forms. This can include strategic location of critical infrastructures away from active faults, adoption of earthquake-resistant designs, and development of robust evacuation routes (Pearce, 2003).

Geological mapping is a valuable tool that provides detailed information about the distribution, nature, and age of rocks and geologies in a particular area (Strahler, 1972). This knowledge is fundamental in assessing the susceptibility of urban areas to earthquakes and in identifying safe zones for rebuilding efforts (Chen et al, 2004).

The integration of geological mapping into urban planning and redevelopment post-earthquake is a requirement for planning considerations to aid in the discussion and trade-offs for suitable areas for reconstruction, assessing the stability of existing structures, and evaluating potential future hazards including landslides. (Guzzetti et al, 2012).

Geology and Urban Form Opportunities

The understanding of geology and its application in urban form opportunities is an essential component of urban regeneration post-disaster (Vale & Campanella, 2005). Geological factors can shape the design and layout of cities, influence the selection of building materials, and affect infrastructure planning and development include waste management and sanitation (Inglezakis & Zorpas, 2020).

Post-earthquake urban regeneration provides a unique opportunity to create more resilient, sustainable, and liveable cities and communities if done wisely. It is possible to incorporate resilient design principles that accommodate the underlying geological features and fault lines, utilizing the data obtained from geological mapping (Godschalk et al, 1999).

Comprehensive geological knowledge, encompassing the behaviour of tectonic plates, the influence of fault lines, and the utilization of geological mapping, can significantly influence the opportunities for urban form adaptations post-disaster. Adopting a geology-conscious approach to urban planning can contribute significantly to safer, more sustainable, and liveable cities in the face of earthquake hazards.

Seismic Topographical Amplification and Building Codes

Topography can greatly influence the amplification of seismic waves. When an earthquake occurs, seismic waves travel through the earth’s crust, and their energy can be amplified or diminished depending on the local topography and soil type (Spudich & Chiou, 2015). Lower lying land and unconsolidated soil types can exacerbate seismic amplification (Assimaki et al, 2008).

Some building codes, like those in Europe, integrate topographical considerations into their standards (European Committee for Standardization, 2005). The Eurocode 8 (EN 1998), for instance, specifically takes into account the effects of local topography on seismic action (Pitilakis, Riga & Anastasiadis, 2013). In contrast, the American Society of Civil Engineers and Structural Engineering Institute’s ASCE/SEI 7-10, while detailed in its seismic provisions, does not explicitly factor in topographical considerations (American Society of Civil Engineers, 2010). There’s growing recognition, however, that more attention needs to be given to this area in future iterations of these codes.

Geological mapping with seismic activity and tectonic plates analysis with soil analysis and topographical amplification considerations are important considerations in urban planning reconstruction.

Integrated 3D Urban Mapping with Geology

Geological mapping is often undertaken in specialist geospatial software. This data can now be represented and integrated in complex real-time CGI models as part of an urban management platform and a decision support tool. Geological and hydrological layers, bathymetry, seismology and volcanology are able to be increasing simulated in physics-based platforms such as the Urban CGI Digital Twin. With this information as a base layer, more intelligent decisions and discussions can be made, and stakeholder informed about why complex integrated decisions are made. For example, the placement of open spaces or escape routes, holding areas or urban forests maybe strongly influenced by the location of geological structures and deformations that may be more conducive to seismic activity.

Considerations for topographical amplification of seismic waves between lower laying land versus higher territory may also be important, depending on soil types. Some building codes in Europe integrate topographical considerations in building design, while other regions do not.

Managing Unintended Consequences from Speedy Rebuilding

Quick reconstruction, is aimed at restoring normalcy as swiftly as possible. However it may bear significant unintended consequences if not carried out carefully (Olshansky et al, 2012). Hasty decisions may lead to the overlooking of critical data and information, increasing the risk of urban quality and even future disasters (Alexander, 2010). Additionally, temporary solutions may become permanent due to budget limitations as time moves along as well as time constraints, as exemplified by the post-earthquake reconstruction in L’Aquila, Italy with consequences in housing and income inequality (Salvati, 2021).

Managing Disaster Capitalism

Disaster capitalism refers to the phenomenon where private entities unreasonably or unfairly profit from disasters. Opportunistic behaviour can hamper the fair distribution of resources and result in economic disparity and poor quality results, impeding the recovery process and potentially worsening the rebuild (Klein, 2007). Managing the influence of disaster capitalism can contribute to a more sustainable and equitable reconstruction and recovery, leading to a resilient urban environment (Gunewardena & Schuller, 2008).

Creating high levels of transparency is one of the key solutions to managing and solving this problem, and using high realism 3D digital twins in urban planning can be one of the key controlling mechanisms, giving clients clear visibility, confidence and control over decisions and the integrated scenarios and options.

Addressing Logistical Challenges in Earthquake Reconstruction

Earthquakes often result in significant logistical challenges, including disrupted transportation networks, limited availability of resources, and increased demand for professional services. Addressing these logistical problems is key to ensuring efficient reconstruction and recovery (Kovács & Spens, 2009)

The post-disaster phase often witnesses a surge in energy costs, largely due to increased demand and disrupted supply chains (Hallegatte & Przyluski, 2010). Such high prices can impede reconstruction efforts and place an additional financial burden on affected communities. Strategies to mitigate these high costs can include promoting energy-efficient construction methods and harnessing local resources and upskilling and even local energy sources (Wilbanks & Fernandez, 2013).

The Urban CGI Digital Twin is used is logistical planning and mapping within projects and between multiple projects. This 4D planning across projects is preventing logistical constraints, rebuilds and stopping projects getting in each others’ way. The key for clients is the ‘simplicity of use’ across stakeholders involved in the construction process as compared to products like Bentley’s iTwin or Synchro products. Another key metric is the human scale approach, giving users the capacity to plan and work at the ground level easily within incredible visual fidelity. You can contact Urban CGI to understand how it has met client logistics planning requirements.

Capacity Development through Earthquake and Disaster Reconstruction Programmes

The capacity of industries and professionals involved in the reconstruction process, both in terms of skills and psychological readiness, is crucial for successful urban regeneration (Norris, 2008). Post-disaster stress can have a significant impact on the productivity and well-being of local individuals. Ensuring psychological support and sufficient training can enhance their capacity to contribute effectively to the rebuilding process (Bisson et al, 2010).

Urban transformation capacity development involves building the skills, knowledge, and resources required to drive the transition towards more resilient and sustainable places and cities (Wolfram et al, 2016). This includes enhancing the capacities of urban planners, architects, engineers, and other professionals involved in the reconstruction process, as well as fostering community participation and ownership in urban regeneration efforts.

One of the ways CGI Digital Twins support urban construction and reconstruction is in the alignment and upskilling of professional and blue-collar labour resources, from capability building to site inductions, briefings and work instructions on regular basis.

The Complexity of Urban Redevelopment in the Context of Changing Climate Conditions

The evolving nature of climate change adds an additional layer of complexity to urban redevelopment efforts in the wake of disasters. Cities are increasingly grappling with extreme weather conditions, including intense heatwaves, severe cold spells, and an increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters (Klinenberg, 2018). These changes necessitate the reconsideration of traditional urban redevelopment approaches and the incorporation of adaptive measures that address these emerging climate-related challenges including ‘green growth’ and increased sustainability (Hallegatte et al, 2011).

Urban transformation needs to carefully consider the built form resilience and sustainability to ensure that reconstructed cities can withstand both the potentially increasing seismic activity and the adverse impacts of climate change (Godschalk, 2003). It involves adopting intelligent green building practices, enhancing energy efficiency, promoting the use of renewable energy, and integrating natural elements into the urban fabric to mitigate effects such as heat islands (Li et al, 2014). For example, according to the Australian CSIRO, published in 2023, strong El Niño and La Niña events are occurring more often due to human induced climate change.

Agile planning tools that allow simulations of potential future scenarios from more extreme climatic conditions, testing of solar and shading, flooding and geological issues along with urban design, form, culture, engineering, constructability, cost and safety are invaluable in these periods of planning for reconstruction. Finding intelligent low-cost, locally relevant methods to solve these wicked problems can save thousands of lives and billions of dollars in the future. The Urban CGI Digital Twin technology is an ever evolving urban platform allowing photo realistic simulation with advanced physics engine capabilities to test plans, ideas and options quickly and low cost. Contact Urban CGI to see our platform live.

Culture, Heritage and Sense of Place in Urban Reconstruction

Equally important in the urban transformation process is the consideration of cultural relevance and urban form. Reconstructed cities should not only be resilient and sustainable, but they should also reflect the cultural heritage, identity, and aspirations of their inhabitants (Lefaivre & Tzonis, 2003). This can be achieved through participatory urban design and development processes that integrate professions and engages local communities and respect local traditions and urban morphologies and architectures.

The urban form, the physical layout, and design of a city, also plays a crucial role in shaping its resilience and sustainability. Compact urban forms, for instance, can enhance the efficiency of transportation networks, reduce energy consumption, and improve the city’s capacity to manage heatwaves (Newman & Kenworthy,1999). While considering local street-space layouts, protecting traditional streets from over-engineering swept paths for utility, public transport and emergency vehicle needs. There is much benefit in high density, low-rise urban form from a view of intimacy, public safety, urban texture, accessibility and creating a sense of place (Bentley et al, 1985).

Other general and proven principles of urban design, including enclosure, urban drama, corners, and gathering places, are critical elements of the urban regeneration process (Carmona et al, 2003). These principles can shape the physical layout of the city, enhance its aesthetic quality, and promote social interactions, thereby contributing to urban well-being and social cohesion (Gehl, 2011). Our shared concept for the reconstructed urban place is not just functional, but a thriving community that enriches the lives of people who live there and attracts investment and visitors.

Iteratively simulating and optioneering complex and integrated urban spaces in high definition Urban CGI digital twins with the overlays and requirements for infrastructure, engineering, transport with environment, ecology and culture leads to better decision making faster due to the intuitive visibility of integrated elements and their impact on each other. Questions can be answered quickly through measurement, analysis, iteration and conversation through to conceptual and detailed simulations as required. Contact Urban CGI to learn more about these new planning capabilities.

Enhancing Urban Well-being and Social Cohesion in Post-earthquake Rebuilding

Urban well-being and social cohesion are key determinants of the livability and resilience of cities1. Post-earthquake rebuilding offers an opportunity to enhance urban well-being by addressing housing, employment, health, education, and other needs of the affected communities2. It also provides a platform for strengthening social cohesion by encouraging community participation in the recovery process, fostering social networks, and promoting a shared sense of identity and purpose3.

Sustainable City Development in Earthquake Reconstruction Efforts

Post-earthquake rebuilding presents an opportunity to imagine new ways of sustainable living that can drive local economies, tourism, and inward investment, and enhance social well-being (Newman, 2005). This can be achieved through the adoption of green and locally relevant building practices, promotion of renewable energy, enhancement of mobility efficiency, and the creation of space that shields from the heat, shelters from the cold and protects inhabitants by the intelligent and responsive layout and structure of streets and buildings (Lehmann, 2010).

However, these opportunities can easily be wasted if the rebuilding process is poorly managed, lacks understanding and buy-in, or is driven by hasty or narrow economic interests (Alexander, 2010). The reconstruction of L’Aquila, Italy, following the 2009 earthquake, is a case in point. The hasty decisions and excessive focus on speed led to the emergence of temporary solutions as permanent fixtures in the city, with negative implications for urban well-being and social cohesion (Alexander, 2013).

To avoid such pitfalls, it is important to adopt a comprehensive, participatory, and forward-looking approach to post-earthquake rebuilding. Such an approach can transform the tragedy of earthquakes into an opportunity for urban renewal, resilience building, and sustainable development. With modern digital urban planning technology, rapid, intelligent and sustainable decisions can be made quickly and easily across myriad dimensions in real time.


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