More City than Water
264 pages, 7 x 10
30 color illustrations, 19 maps
Release Date:24 May 2022

More City than Water

A Houston Flood Atlas

University of Texas Press

Shortly after Hurricane Harvey dumped a record 61 inches of rain on Houston in 2017, celebrated writer and Bayou City resident Lacy M. Johnson began collecting flood stories. Although these stories attested to the infinite variety of experience in America’s most diverse city, they also pointed to a consistent question: What does catastrophic flooding reveal about this city, and what does it obscure?

More City than Water brings together essays, conversations, and personal narratives from climate scientists, marine ecologists, housing activists, urban planners, artists, poets, and historians as they reflect on the human geography of a region increasingly defined by flooding. Both a literary and a cartographic anthology, More City than Water features striking maps of Houston’s floodplains, waterways, drainage systems, reservoirs, and inundated neighborhoods. Designed by University of Houston seniors from the Graphic Design program, each map, imaginative and precise, shifts our understanding of the flooding, the public’s relationship to it, and the fraught reality of rebuilding. Evocative and unique, this is an atlas that uncovers the changing nature of living where the waters rise.

Houston is the problem and the solution, the dream and the nightmare, the big blue bubble in a still-red state, a global capital for oil production and the most diverse city in the country, a place menaced by future climate catastrophes and the soup bowl into which it already rained sixty-one inches in one storm: 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, which is the particular focus here. Nothing less than this brilliant chorus of writers and mapmakers could capture all that range and contradiction; gathered here, they tell of land and water,  inequality and solidarity, possibility and threat. ‘Hurricane Harvey reinforced my belief in the power of water,’ writes marine biologist and native Houstonian Elaine Shen in one of the book’s riveting essays, and More City Than Water reinforces my belief in the power of creative atlases. Rebecca Solnit, author of A Paradise Built in Hell and lead author of Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas
I was gripped by More City Than Water from start to finish. If you didn't know how the historic flows of water, wealth, and power have shaped Houston and cities like it around the nation, the maps and narratives here can be your guide. And the book is an affirmation for those who have never been able to ignore the toxic seep industrial capitalism leaves some communities to drown in. It's not an easy book to read, but these pages are as insistent and inescapable as water pouring into the bayou. The words and images in More City Than Water insist on nothing but the truth. Camille T. Dungy, author of Soil: The History of a Black Mother's Garden
This kaleidoscopic essay collection paints an intimate portrait of Houston, Texas, through multiple, and at times divergent, lenses. Houston is ground zero for three of the twenty-first century's defining phenomena––urban development, extraction, and climate change––and as such it has the power to teach us about how people and communities evolve even as the place that unites them changes irrevocably. Elizabeth Rush, author of Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore

Lacy M. Johnson is the author of the essay collection The Reckonings and the memoirs The Other Side and Trespasses. Her writing has appeared in The Best American Essays, The Best American Travel Writing, the New Yorker, and elsewhere. She teaches creative nonfiction at Rice University and is the founding director of the Houston Flood Museum.

Cheryl Beckett is an associate professor and area coordinator at the Kathryn G. McGovern College of the Arts, University of Houston School of Art, Graphic Design Program. Beckett has served as the creative director at Minor Design in Houston since 1987.

  • Introduction: More City Than Water (Lacy M. Johnson)
  • History
    • Gusher (Sonia Hamer)
    • History Displaced: Flooding the First Black Municipality in Texas (Aimee VonBokel with Tanya Debose and Alexandria Parson)
    • Anthropocene City: Houston as Hyperobject (Roy Scranton)
    • If You Didn’t Know Your House Was Sinking (Martha Serpas)
    • Meander Belt: A Native Houstonian Reflects on Water (Elaine Shen)
    • Ombrophobia (Fear of Rain) (Cheryl Beckett)
    • The Task in Front of Us: A Conversation with Raj Mankad (Lacy M. Johnson)
  • Memory
    • Harvey Alerts (Sonia Del Hierro)
    • The Only Thing You Have/Trace of a Trace (Lyric Evans-Hunter)
    • Things That Drown, and Why (Bruno Ríos)
    • Higher Ground (Bryan Washington)
    • The Gallery of Cracked Pavement: A Walking Tour (Dana Kroos)
    • The City That Saved Itself (Allyn West)
    • We All Breathe the Same Air: A Conversation with P. Grace Tee Lewis (Lacy M. Johnson)
  • Community
    • Climate Dignity: Reading Baldwin after Harvey and in the Near Northside (Daniel Peña)
    • Look East (Susan Rogers)
    • Community Power (Ben Hirsch)
    • A Whole City on Stilts: Hydraulic Citizenship in Houston (Dominic Boyer)
    • Suburban Design with Nature (Geneva Vest)
    • Flood Song (Laura August)
    • From Ice to Inundation (Cymene Howe)
    • Lean into the Living World: A Conversation with Alex Ortiz (Lacy M. Johnson)
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Contributors
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