Donald Trump visited a hurricane-stricken Houston and promised the “best ever” government response, before pumping his fist from the steps of Air Force One as he departed.

Greg Abbott, the Texas governor, marveled that the state’s “resilient spirit is alive and well”. The phrase “Houston Strong” has been daubed as graffiti on city underpasses and held aloft as placards at home baseball games.

There has been plenty of defiance, heart-rending loss, and uplifting generosity, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, but one pressing topic has so far been largely overlooked: how will Houston rebuild in a better way should a storm like this ever again visit?

“When you talk about rebuilding a place like Houston, people’s first thoughts are “I want it back the way it was”, said Sandra Knight, a senior research engineer at the University of Maryland. “And unfortunately that’s not the best thing to do. As a nation we aren’t planning forward enough. We are developing in places that aren’t sustainable. We need to start doing things differently.”

Abbott has said a “Texas-sized storm needs a Texas-sized response”, predicting that reconstruction after the heaviest rainfall event in recorded US history – around 25tn gallons of water were dumped upon a band of southeast Texas in just a few days – will top the $120bn required by New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

It may well cost taxpayers in excess of $180bn. And it’s not yet clear what lessons will be learned.

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