Recovery is a long-term decision process in the face of rapid change, involving many individual actors and organizations making decisions about rebuilding, planning, and financing. Communities must make rapid decisions about physical reconstruction and economic development, while at the same time making critical decisions regarding management and financing, all under great time pressure. It is tempting to think of a disaster-affected community as a “blank slate” upon which a new, improved, disaster-resistant community can arise, under the guidance of rational planning. In fact, actual post-disaster situations are much more complex, and, although some forces facilitate the opportunity for positive change, there are at least an equal number of countervailing forces resisting such change. Significant change is difficult to achieve, because the political and administrative environments resist it, and because the historic evolution of the city reflects the deep-seated desires of its inhabitants. Still, physical changes do occur—usually in limited parts of a city—and they sometimes are able to bring about social and economic improvements. The challenge for planners is to learn how to maximize the limited opportunity for positive post-disaster change. This paper briefly summarizes some of the complexities of the post-disaster decision environment and suggests some ways to maximize positive change following disasters.
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