Building Resilient Communities

Community Resilience

Better Together

09-12-2021

In 2008, a yellow beach house in Texas became famous as the only house that survived Hurricane Ike. Ten years later, in 2018, one beach house in Mexico was left standing after Hurricane Michael. These examples confirm that building resiliency into your home can help protect it from climate extremes even when everything else around is being destroyed. 

Yet, how does it feel to be the only one to come back home after a disaster when the rest of your community has nothing left? Jerry, whose house was the only one to survive a wildfire in 2017, paints a lonely picture.

The above stories suggest individual homeowners can and must enhance their home’s resilience. We try to help with the how. However, we believe the following step should be to share knowledge and efforts with a wider circle: your community. 

Human beings are social creatures. We need and want to be a part of a community that gives us a sense of belonging, dims feelings of loneliness, and provides safety and comfort. Our communities are also a source of resources, knowledge, inspiration, and support.

 

What is a resilient community, and why do we need it?

A resilient community uses accessible means to react to, endure, and recover from adverse situations. This allows for the adaptation and contgrowth of a community after disaster strikes. Resilient communities can minimize any disaster, making the return to normal life as effortless as possible. This is a good example of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. 

In the words of Doug Pierce, one of the developers of RELi, a rating system for building resilience, “Even if you have a building, neighborhood, or infrastructure that can weather some kind of extreme event; if you don’t have cohesiveness within the population that is part of that, it’s hard for them to respond to the event while it’s happening, and they can’t rebuild afterward if they are not cohesive.”

Sandro Galea and Joan Sbab published their take on resilient communities, in which they emphasize that first, we must consider the city as a whole and how the foundational role urban planning, design, and community dynamics impact health in metropolitan areas. Next, we must design specific resilient buildings so that they maximize personal well-being. It is important to remember that architecture does not start with a building; it starts with the community. 

Research shows that engaging communities in the urban planning process and collaborative climate action planning reduces vulnerability and enhances resilience. 

 

How can we help our community become more resilient? 

  • We can start by expanding our knowledge. Post-Carbon Institute created a free online Think Resilience course that provides education on the challenges that we face amid climate change, and how to enhance our community’s resilience by changing the way we think and act. 

  • Post Carbon Institute also created an organization, called Resilience, which aggregates many resources with information, education, and suggestions on building climate resilient communities. One important suggestion is that before building resilience in communities, we first need to make sure we have a community, and if not, build one by getting to know the people who live around us, for example, by arranging meetings. 

  • To take it one step further, you can start a Cool Block! You can decide to lead a Cool Block to help engage with other household members on your block; you can meet, discuss challenges, and decide on actions to make your block more environmentally friendly and safer, thus more resilient. Though initiated in California by the Empowerment Institute, this is a program that can be implemented anywhere. 

  • The Transition Network organization established a similar concept to Cool Block in Europe. They formed a very thorough guide that explains, down to the last detail, how to create a local supportive and collaborative group by bringing people together and engaging them in practical actions that best fit their community. 

  • Common Future (formerly known as BALLE) is an organization based in Oakland, California, that educates and supports the transition towards sustainable local economies and facilitates shifting capital into communities. This organization partnered with a non-profit New Dream to create a very informative guide on how to enhance your use of local services while building a stronger community. This includes supporting local businesses, keeping money circulating in the local economy, and supporting local entrepreneurs. 

  • The Bay Localize organization also created a guide, or rather a toolkit, that thoroughly specifies how to analyze your community for its assets and how to measure its resilience. Their criteria for a resilient community are: equity (access to basic goods in challenging times), quality (of basic goods and services), sustainability (of how goods and services are provided), and ownership (of resources of goods and services). Ideally, a resilient community will achieve all of the aforementioned criteria. 

  • Ready provides another toolkit for community preparedness. They advise learning about the hazards and risks your community may be exposed to, while providing resources on how to address those risks. This governmental organization also provides specific actions that can be taken according to those hazards and potential risks, such as extreme climate phenomena. 

  • Check out a few inspiring initiatives in Australia that we can adopt for the purpose of community resilience building: climate change themed parties to get the conversation going, enhancing awareness by school talks, and community art.

 

Fortunately, creating a resilient community is not only up to us as individuals, there are plenty of organizations that focus on creating and supporting resilient communities. Here are a few:

  • The Urban Land Institute is a global network of real estate and land use experts dedicated to helping communities thrive by encouraging connections and collaborations, sharing best practices, and education. 

  • Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC) is helping communities, cities, and supply chains increase their resilience through community-driven efforts led by local leaders.

  • RAND Corporation is a non-profit that provides research and data on issues such as health, education, and safety. Their research on community resilience has some great examples of what can be done before and after a disaster strikes. 

  • Resilient Communities is an inspiring non-profit that specializes in engaging residents with community activities and facilitating capacity-building workshops for youth and associations in America and Morocco. They are also involved in the design, research, and development of sustainable infrastructure projects with universities and government agencies.

  • Community Resilience, another inspiring initiative from the University of California Irvine, is currently working on multiple projects such as a community resilience co-lab on campus that aims to bring and strengthen the community, a project on climate refugees’ stories, and training projects.

  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) manages a multi-faceted program that assists communities and stakeholders on issues related to buildings and the interdependencies of physical infrastructure systems. NIST's Community Resilience Program complements efforts by others in the public and private sectors and focuses on research, community planning and guidance, and stakeholder engagement.

  • Planning for Hazards, led by The Colorado Department of Local Affairs, provides Colorado-specific detailed information about how to assess a community’s risk for hazards and how to implement several land use planning tools and strategies for reducing their risk. It is a good example of the type of information residents should be provided by states so they can better protect themselves from natural hazards and increase their resilience.

 

 Some organizations are providing funds for resilient community initiatives. Here are a few examples:

  • In 2017, Wells Fargo partnered with The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and launched a Resilient Communities Program designed to prepare for future environmental challenges by enhancing community capacity to plan and implement resilience projects. It is a four-year initiative with an expected investment of $24 million.

  • Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) allotted $100,000 for a Resilient Communities Grant Program in 2020 and has done the same in 2021.  

  • The Southeast Sustainability Directors Network (SSDN) aims to accelerate the adoption of sustainable best practices in Southeast communities through the Southeast Sustainability Community Fund (SSCF). Grants have been awarded to city and county governments, and local partnerships have been developed to create socially equitable sustainable energy and/or water initiatives. The fund invested $1.5 million in 2017 for six projects, and nearly $1.8 million in 2018. In 2019 the fund planned five to seven grants of approximately $75,000 to $150,000 per year for two years (2020 – 2021).

 

Final Thoughts

The first step in the road to resilient communities is belonging to a community. If we don’t have one, we need to build it. If we already belong to a community, we should strengthen it by bringing the people in it closer together. A closer community is a stronger one. 

Communities need to be built in a more resilient fashion. It is the responsibility of local city leaders and organizations to conduct thoughtful and smart urban planning. Community  members play a big role in enhancing the resilience of their community by the actions they take and the interactions they initiate.  

While researching actions that make a community resilient, we were overwhelmed by the abundance of resources out there to help communities grow stronger, which leads us to believe that the need for resilient communities is a notion widely spread and agreed upon. We have also come to the conclusion that the actions that bring the community closer, are the actions that also strengthen it and make it more resilient. 

A resilient community is one where people feel a sense of safety and belonging. They are also prepared to withstand an extreme event, and are able to come back quickly and stronger than before.

 

KEEP COOL. BUILD RESILIENCE. EAMPACT.

 

References

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