From a devastating earthquake, a blueprint for recovery

Mar 11, 2013 by Matt Collette
Matthias Ruth, a Northeastern professor of public policy and engineering, and an international team of scholars studied how the response to a 2009 earthquake in Italy can guide future city-planning efforts. Credit: Thinkstock

In 2009, a massive earthquake struck L'Aquila, Italy, a town two hours north of Rome where generations of families have lived for thousands of years. The quake devastated the community so much that its citizens have not been able to return; anyone crossing into the city must wear protective gear and be accompanied by emergency personnel.

"It looks like a of the worst kind," said Matthias Ruth, a professor with dual appointments in the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Ruth is part of a team of about 20 researchers from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development that has studied the aftermath of the Italian earthquake in hopes of teaching other cities how to improve their to major disasters. The research team released a report of their recommendations, "Building Resilient Regions after a National Disaster," in Rome earlier this month.

"We need to prepare ourselves," Ruth said. "That's the intellectual question we have to face: When we rebuild, how do we do that considering the next disaster? Now that we are given the opportunity to rethink and rebuild, how do we do this in a smarter way?"

From a devastating earthquake, a blueprint for recovery
Work is underway to rebuild L’Aquila, which was dev­as­tated by a 2009 earth­quake. Credit: Matthias Ruth

Planners, engineers, and in L'Aquila have begun rebuilding the ravaged city, Ruth said. They are looking at how to balance its existing nature—a quintessentially Italian community of winding streets, sidewalk cafes, and close quarters—with the needs of a modern city to allow for both resilience against future disasters and an infrastructure that can support a of entrepreneurs and innovation. Some structures will simply not be rebuilt; others may look the same but will be built using entirely new methods and materials.

"The big question is, 'How do we use technology to continue to give the feel of an old city with its own charm and recreate the social fabric and some kind of , while also incorporating modern materials, sensors, and information technology to make the city a safer place?'" Ruth said. These issues, he said, represent the key challenges facing urban resilience projects, and they align with the larger debate of designing sustainable cities that can evolve with both environmental and social changes.

Ruth said lessons learned in L'Aquila—gathered from more than 400 in-person interviews and intensive landscape surveys and assessments—can be applied to cities in places like New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, all of which were battered by superstorm Sandy. In a sign that Ruth's report has had far-reaching effect, some officials have announced that destroyed waterfront structures will either not be rebuilt or, in cases like beachfront boardwalks, will be rebuilt out of concrete, not wood like the previous structures.

"This is not just about Italy," Ruth said. "This is really a piece of the groundwork to be laid for cities all around the world."

Explore further: Faradair team determined to make hybrid BEHA fly

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Italy disaster experts quit over quake trial

Oct 23, 2012

(AP)—Four top Italian disaster experts quit their posts Tuesday, saying the manslaughter convictions of former colleagues for failing to adequately warn of a deadly 2009 earthquake means they can't effectively perform their ...

'Smart City' ambitions for quake-struck Italian town

Apr 04, 2012

Three years after a quake devastated L'Aquila, the Italian town has launched a bid to become a hi-tech European city -- to the scepticism of thousands of people still living in temporary housing.

'Main Street' economic conditions misread by GDP

Feb 18, 2010

Traditional gauges of economic activity severely overstate the standard of living as experienced on 'Main Street,' say University of Maryland researchers, who have worked with their state officials to apply ...

Recommended for you

Faradair team determined to make hybrid BEHA fly

6 hours ago

Aiming to transform their concept into a real success, the Faradair team behind a six-seat Bio-Electric-Hybrid-Aircraft (BEHA) have taken this hybrid aircraft project into a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. ...

How polymer banknotes were invented

Nov 26, 2014

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) and CSIRO's 20-year "bank project" resulted in the introduction of the polymer banknote – the first ever of its kind, and the most secure form of currency in the world. ...

Enabling the hearing impaired to locate human speakers

Nov 26, 2014

New wireless microphones systems developed at EPFL should allow the hearing impaired to aurally identify, even with closed eyes, the location of the person speaking. This new technology will be used in classrooms ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.