Building for a Changing Climate in Arkansas


Arkansas woke up on Monday, May 27, 2019, to reports of record flooding on the Arkansas River.  At noon on the same day the website showed 89 tornadoes in the United States over the previous 48 hours from Idaho to Ohio. Climate change seems to be happening at a relatively fast rate.  What can we do to build for changing conditions and increasing natural disasters?

Flood threats are determined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) which produces Flood Insurance Risk Maps showing the flood way and predicted 100-year and 500-year flood zones. The maps are updated regularly by FEMA based on observations after floods, but tend to lag several years,which is an issue with what appears to be rapidly changing weather patterns.
The typical requirements for building in floodplains are:

  • Avoid building in the flood way,
  • Construction in the flood plain must not increase the flood height
  • Certain structures must be built above the 100-year or 500-year base flood elevation

Today, these regulations are simply not good enough.

Planned infrastructure improvements by the state should include funding for risk mitigation of natural disasters. Current flooding has closed numerous major highways and secondary roads across the state. The most important flood preparation and recovery element are our roads and highways allowing access into and out of flooded areas for evacuation and emergency access. Funding for raising critical roads further above the floodplain should be provided.

With the exception of storm shelters, tornados are not mentioned in the current Arkansas building code.  Minimum design wind speeds in the building code in Arkansas are in the range of 105 to 120 miles per hour which are in the range of an EF0 to a mid range EF2 tornado. But, with minor exceptions, the code does not include requirements to resist flying debris, which causes severe damage in most tornados.

Arkansas is working to adopt an updated building code that requires that all new schools and additions to schools with more than 50 occupants have a tornado shelter. This is a good start, but more needs to be done to ensure the safety of Arkansans in the event of a tornado.

Arkansas could minimize the future impact of tornadoes by enforcing the building code so that all structures are built to the minimum wind load in the code. Storm shelters should be in occupied structures. Most people don’t want to live in bunkers designed to resist the loads and impacts from tornadoes, but buildings should have a shelter or refuge to retreat to during a tornado.

Flooding and wind events are inevitable in the Natural State and risks for these appear to be growing with climate change. But, these simple changes could have an incredible impact on the safety of all Arkansans.

The Importance of Public Spaces and Their Impact on Economic Development


Public spaces, when carefully planned, lead to improved economic growth and spur both investment and social cohesion. These are plazas, parks, city squares and the spaces in between. Examples like Italy’s Roman Forum, Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz and London’s Trafalgar Square have been crucial to the historic development of those cities and continue to be significant hundreds of years later.  As Arkansans, we can learn lessons from other cities to create public spaces that reflect the character and values of our state.

Public spaces bring people together to foster social and economic ties. They remind us of our diversity, history, and provide a place for community interaction. If public spaces are not provided, they end up becoming streets and parking lots, which can create a sense of isolation because there is little intention to form a community.

If Arkansas wants to enhance the quality of life and increase global competitiveness, we need to be attentive to the trends of local and world economics.

With generational shifts, changing demographics and more people moving to cities, public spaces are reemerging as a vital part of the community. *According to U.S. Census Bureau Data released in 2010, 21 percent of America’s population is now living within two to four miles of a city hall. The influx of residents to urban areas within the last decade has resulted in an increase of over 2.2 million people within cities.

Our neighboring states have already recognized the importance of creating good public spaces and benefit from their effect.  *Oklahoma City recently developed the Bricktown Canal.  Tulsa has developed the ‘Gathering Place’, a $465 million riverfront park on the Arkansas River.  *Chattanooga poured efforts into their city center and invested nearly $518 million by 2016 and plan to invest almost $1 billion by 2020.

Technological improvements in communication, mobility and the service economy allow businesses to be decentralized and their employees to lead flexible lifestyles.  High earners typically flock to cities with the right balance of location, economy, amenities and culture.  In order for Arkansas to compete with other states, we must realize that money is not the only factor for attracting talent.  Many communities in Arkansas are well on their way to providing those characteristics, such as Bentonville and El Dorado, and the rest of the state can see the economic effect of their investment.

Private investment is necessary to create good public space.  It cannot be left for public agencies to stretch their budgets and reallocate resources from other necessary services.  Governing agencies are not equipped to support the development of good public spaces as their efforts are geared towards a broader spectrum of work including safely moving traffic, managing green space and developing buildings-not the spaces in between.

Arkansas can improve its economy and public spaces by making them a priority in planning the future of our state. Without a plan, our communities develop by the impulses of short-term political and economic gain that often spreads our cities outward and stretches our public resources. Many towns in Arkansas already have town squares and parks that were originally intended for this purpose, they just need to be utilized.

Public spaces are important to economic development because they draw in people.  If Arkansas follows the trends of urbanization and prioritizes development of public spaces, we will become a draw for national talent and investment opportunities, and the economy around us will be improved to form a stronger city and state.




by Cromwell Architects Engineers

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