Thomas Hartmann: Clumsy Floodplains. Responsive Land Policy for Extreme Floods. Farnham 2011. 153 pp.
Geographers dealing with spatial planning and natural hazards need to have knowledge about land policy and cultural theory. This PhD thesis by Thomas Hartmann is characterized by the adaptation of cultural theory to floodplain planning. Every page evokes the influence of its main supervising professor, Prof. Benjamin Davy and his book "Essential Injustice". The author - a spatial planner from TU Dortmund previously engaged at the chair of Prof. Davy - has unveiled remarkable knowledge about land and water, including environmental governance, socio-political research, and anthropological studies.
"Clumsiness", according to Hartmann, means refusing just one possible solution when faced with contradictory definitions and problems regarding floodplains (p. 46). What does the theory of polyrationality have to do with coping with extreme floods? In the first chapter, Hartmann examines the interesting relationship between building and water management agencies, landowners, and municipalities. An important result of the field work part (mostly interviews) is that since municipalities granted building permits in flood zones and thus private houses exist there, flood protection should be provided by the state from the perspective of private landowners (p. 12). Clumsy patterns of human activity have always persisted. The main question is: Are people, e.g., the affected landowners, not willing or able to change their behaviour? After a brief overview of the legal instruments for preventing and dealing with floodplains such as the Federal Building Code or the Federal Water Act, Hartmann consequently builds the social construction of floodplains consisting of the following types: "Ignore" (inconspicuous floodplains), "Protect" (controllable floodplains), "Build in" (profitable floodplains), and "Defend" (dangerous floodplains). Planning, law, and property rights for this social theory are precisely examined in chapter 1. On one hand, the author shows that the law supports the interests of landowners and planners (p. 35). Particularly, landowners are entitled to use their property freely and gather the profits from using it; the planners are considered to be the "landowner's best friends". On the other hand, no word is mentioned in this context about the guideline "property entails obligations" (Art. 14 para 2 sentence 1 German Basic Law) and its consequences for land disputes and environmental conflicts. A crucial question remains unsolved: Why should society care too much about the fears of the affected private landowners in floodplains? Building detached houses in flood-sensitive areas mirrors the flooding game (p. 79). The Cultural Theory, founded by the anthropologist Mary Douglas, is concerned with rationalities comprising fatalists, hierarchists, individualists, and egalitarians (p. 38). Indeed: Coping with extreme floods means that the most effective measure to reduce damage potential is keeping flood-prone areas free from new settlement developments (p. 55). Floodplain management means the solution "pay or swim". In chapter 2, Hartmann prepares the ground (precisely: retention lands) for his so-called "LATER" instrument: Large Areas for Temporary Emergency Retention. LATER describes flood storage basins along the main rivers that reduce extreme discharges most effectively by large retention areas, by risk alliances through mutual agreements between affected landowners (p. 63), by the size of the retention land - which is much bigger than the usual polder measures - and by the purpose of emergency. Using LATER means that the downstream party has an interest in the use and flooding of the upstream land (p. 65). In 2002, the "Dresdner Zwinger" served the commune Hitzacker as a retention area. Thus, using LATER helped stop the flood wave at its vertex. In chapter 3, the author opens Pandora's box: Namely, he implements the concept of responsive land policy as an integral part of LATER with obligatory insurance for landowners against extreme flooding. Landowners can generally be competitive, cooperative, constitutional, and/or composed. Responsive land policy discusses the possibility of privatised flood protection, cooperations (e.g., through land trusts), mandatory land readjustment (Umlegung), and profitable uses of floodplains (p. 115). Hartmann interprets polyrational land policies as the child of the Cultural Theory and produces an important interdisciplinary study, showing that clumsy response solutions are needed, since in 2003 in Germany, only 10 per cent of all households had contracted an insurance against flooding for personal belongings, and only 4 per cent had insured their buildings through insurances against damages (Elementarschadensversicherung) (p. 133). Of course, floods are insurable if risk communities - the upstream settlers as well as the downstream inhabitants - are large enough, and insurance premiums may be calculated according to the individual risk of the insured landowner. Obligatory insurance against natural hazards can become a viable land policy. Clearly, land policy should achieve fairness of distributional effects besides economic efficiency (p. 69). As an advantage of insurance solutions, the damage that the landowners probably suffer does not burden the community. However, the numerous distribution means of land policy - especially the de-capitalization of land as a common resource of the society - are underestimated or even neglected in this study. This PhD thesis is mainly for the "Coase-fellows" (Ronald Coase) rather than for "Mill-fans", who follow the ideas of John Stuart Mill. The author concludes that "everlasting clumsiness" is comparable with the Sisyphean task of keeping a ball uphill, seeking to raise a monstrous stone with both his hands. From this perspective, land policy - in view of coping with floods - has the task of the Leviathan. First, the problems occurring in areas used for housing have mainly to do with the creation of private property rights. Second, governing structures based on the creation and conceptualization of private property rights, enforced by external authorities, are neither always necessary nor optimal. Hartmann concludes that "policymaking, indeed society, has permanently to aim at granting access to all rationalities and try to respond to all rationalities" (p. 137). However, what is missing in this book is that (land) policymakers should not consider themselves as (polyrational) everybody's darlings or private landowner's best friends with the duty to always respond to the rationalities of private landowners. Why should policymakers follow this advice? Instead, policymakers have to achieve permanent dynamic balance between different common and communal property rights and tenure securities for urban and rural lands in floodplains beyond the 100%-private property rights solution, and should implement time-restricted leasehold tenure models including cooperatives for the non-landowners rather than caring too much about private landowners. Utilitarian justice, according to John Stuart Mill, should maximise the happiness of all in favour of the issues of justice and fairness, not mainly of the private landowners in floodplains. In a nutshell: Hartmann introduces the innovative concept "LATER" that focuses on the fate of the affected individual landowners involved in flood (insurance) solutions and situations, whereas the function and strength of the Leviathan for the planning of floodplain areas remain unclear and ineffective.