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​Students tackle flooding in first annual policy challenge


Flooding in Meyerland during Hurricane Harvey. Photo courtesy Chris Klesch, Swamplot

By Tracey Dibbs     2/27/18 11:41pm

Six teams presented policy proposals addressing flood resiliency in Meyerland on Feb. 22 as part of Rice University’s first annual Houston Centered Policy Challenge.

The Houston Centered Policy Challenge is a multidisciplinary competition for students to design policy solutions to Houston-area problems, according to project coordinator Meredith McCain. Meyerland, a neighborhood in southwest Houston, was chosen because it was particularly impacted by the flooding from Hurricane Harvey, McCain said.

“Each [team] crafted a proposal to respond to one out of a series of prompts that we gave them,” McCain, a Duncan College sophomore, said. “Project proposals ranged from how to reimagine buyouts and deed restrictions, to how to allow students to stay at their neighborhood school after flooding.”

The panel of local community judges, who have expertise in flood control or municipal policy and included Houston’s Mayor Pro Tem, awarded first place to Martel freshman Connor Rothschild and Martel College senior Sapna Suresh, one of the six participating teams.

For their final proposal, Rothschild and Suresh suggested a multi-home buyout program that would promote community-building in Meyerland while easing the financial burden on its residents.

“We incentivized homeowners to engage in home buyouts with their neighbors by offering to pay them amounts higher than existing buyout offers,” Rothschild said. “Engaging in multi-home buyouts makes a resident feel like they’re making a community-driven decision.”

McCain said each team has the opportunity to apply for seed money from Meyerland community organizations to further craft their ideas and implement the project.

The competition was co-sponsored by the Center for Civic Leadership, Baker Institute Student Forum and Design for America, according to McCain.

Martel College seniors Lizzy Kalomeris and David Ratnoff co-created the Houston Centered Policy Challenge after participating in design and policy competitions.

“We realized that design and policy students were siloed in their disciplines without opportunities for collaboration,” Ratnoff said. “Looking to our senior year, we wanted to introduce a platform where these two problem-solving approaches could intersect, and undergraduates from across Rice’s schools and majors could meaningfully engage with issues surrounding them.”

The team of Lovett College junior Rose Kantorczyk, Martel sophomore Alec Tobin, Lovett junior Grace Coleman and Wiess College senior Andrew Bertics placed second. According to Coleman, the team chose to address locally-delivered decision-making as its prompt.

“Our proposal was a community initiative to combine community voices and expert opinion in order to design new, higher density housing in Meyerland that would be both safe from flooding and meet the needs of residents,” Coleman said.

Baker College sophomore Katherine Simmers, a member of the third place team with Baker sophomore Eli Mensing and Sid Richardson College senior George Barrow, said her team focused on assessing current deed restrictions in Houston. According to Simmers, deed restrictions empower residents to determine renovations they wish to see on their own land.

“We proposed that a survey be sent out to Meyerland residents that collects data on how much each house has flooded and if residents know and understand their deed restrictions,” Simmers said.

Simmers said residents would then receive an interactive map that would further provide essential information to residents.

“It was so cool to see the way all the different teams interpreted the prompts and came out with thoughtful, innovative solutions that were as unique as Meyerland is as a community,” Simmers said.

The first place winners will each receive $250 in prize money, the second place team members will each receive $100 and third place will receive $50 each, according to McCain.

Rothschild said he was grateful for the opportunity to impact the greater Houston community.

“Every team that competed was phenomenal, in terms of both their presentation skills and the ideas they presented,” Rothschild said. “Any team could have gotten first — we’re just grateful to have participated in a competition filled with such bright minds.”

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