by Pat Rahming
Pat Rahming is one of the country’s leading architects and storytellers. This guest column developed from an online conversation immediately after the recent floods.
As a child, I played “under the floor”. It was a wonderful place, full of possibilities. My friends and I would find places to hide or to play house or school, or to hide our childhood treasures – marbles, baseballs, comic books – or to just pretend adventure. My uncle stored lumber there as well, waiting to be delivered to the jobsite. The world “under the floor” was different for everyone, but it was important to us all.
The first time I remember a flood in my part of Bain Town, I was not yet a teenager. The water in the street was above my knees, but I could sit, high and dry, on the top step leading up to my porch and watch things float by.
I listened as my grandmother held her three-way conversations, standing on our porch, with her friends across the street, also on their porches. Only one house in the neighbourhood was affected by the flood. It was a small house owned by a man who was leasing a spot in the yard next door to ours until he had paid for his own lot nearby, at which point he would move the house. Ignoring the warnings, he had placed on six blocks – much too low to the ground.
I don’t think my grandmother felt particularly lucky that there was no water in her house. That was why the house had been built on tall, cut stone blocks nearly 30 years earlier. Instead, she was annoyed that she could not get to work. You see, back then everyone knew a house should be built above the flood level. Everyone.
More than a half century later, no-one knows. Two weeks ago, following a once-in-a-decade deluge, hundreds, if not thousands of houses, built near the ground in low-lying areas, found themselves fighting water inside, sill-high. The common knowledge that during one of the two annual rainy seasons there would be flooding is no longer so common.