In this post, Bang the Table‘s own Amanda Nagl shares the importance of building a resilient city. Check out Bang the Table’s podcast to learn more about the City of Boulder’s resiliency strategy.
Resilience has many definitions but all include some reference to an ability to bounce back—be it from something predictable or not, natural or man-made, for better or for worse. Regardless of the subject or application, resilience is about the capacity for, and adjustment to, change. Urban resilience is about a city’s ability to bounce back from change whether the change is anticipated or when city officials and residents are surprised by it. It may even be slow change that comes from within—like the growth of poverty or transportation failures. In resilience terms, these are viewed as shocks (sudden, often unexpected events) and stressors (longer-term evolution of issues, maybe predictable).
100 Resilient Cities (100 RC), funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, is an initiative that is gaining recognition worldwide. The effort encourages cities to think beyond stressors, such as natural disasters, and to include long-term social and economic issues that impact quality of life. This broad definition seems to also encompass everything that a city does, as well as everything that happens around it and within its boundaries. Inherent in the Rockefeller initiative, is a drive to create a profession of resilience experts and to educate and inform communities from the ground up. It’s about the importance of planning and developing systems in a way that they can host enough elasticity to stretch, bounce, and enable sustainability, regardless of the stress endured.
For most of the cities in the program, this translates to a Resilience Strategy, though how such a document interacts with other policies and decision-making tools varies within the cohort. What does not seem to vary among this group or the thousands of cities and towns worldwide that are working on similar plans and recovery models, is that they must find a way to inform and involve residents every step of the way. This encompasses the creation of a resilience strategy; from the early development meetings all the way through implementation, including the creation and negotiation of every new objective.
It is easy to understand why community involvement is so important when developing these plans within a democratic society. Without public support, the funding will ultimately dwindle and make even the best plan obsolete. Public participation still carries a heavy weight even under the umbrella of a larger, more capable, or more controlling government. The very nature of resilience involves a commitment by the business community, human service agencies and residents to become aware and involved; building contingency plans and making connections in ways that are not required for a “business as usual” strategy.
The difference between a resilience strategy and other documents like strategic plans or the budgeting process is that the plan mandates behaviors outside of the agency that authors the document. To be successful, all impacted parties must work together toward common outcomes. Sometimes this means seeing the value in the future more clearly than the potential for today and investing resources in such a way to better ensure the future that is desired. This can be a challenge because it requires leaders to present information and scenarios in such a way to shift public priorities from immediate needs to longer-term sustainability.
In-person events, often the foundation for a city to launch a planning process, allow trust to build through the development of relationships and connections in the community but we know from experience that most people are not attending these during “the good times” and that reach in difficult times is even more limited. Some of the cities most successful at connecting with partner agencies, businesses, and residents utilized online tools from the onset. Websites and emails bring awareness to people, helping to reveal the silent, or very loud, threat lurking and waiting to impact their quality of life. Social media has been used to spread information both from local governments and among its constituencies. Readiness surveys are used online for several purposes. Some deploy surveys to draw people in and attract enough attention to encourage participants to then read more; meeting goals around community awareness. Others use these surveys to determine baseline community readiness for disaster response; identifying where community hubs are or should be located and determining resource locations or community capacity during or after emergencies. Trends show that some are even using readiness surveys in combination with other activities to encourage residents to get to know one another; building social capital in neighborhoods or across the city. The goal is to get people talking not only to their government but also to one another and to encourage the development of resilient strategies among systems and within neighborhoods.
If a community is experiencing a time of success and growth, holding stressors at bay or seemingly managing them well, then the rate of resident or business attendance in resilience planning is typically scarce. Resources are tight or the priority is just not there. Of course, this changes quickly during disaster—community gathering spaces fill up instantly as people desperately seek to share information and compile resources for survival and active recovery. To account for this dynamic, governments need to go beyond the use of stand-alone online tools to inform communities and create an electronic space where those necessary connections can occur without bricks and mortar, set times, or long agendas.
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada created a climate change-specific project and has laid the provision of information as its foundation with the community. In addition, the city has included an interactive question and answer component to allow for clarification and a clear identification of the problem to be solved by the development of a plan. By using the question and answer approach at this early stage of engagement, the city has allowed the public to address the issues and the plan in an open format. The city and the stakeholder panel will be able to deploy the questions generated by the public to create strong communications about this project as the planning process moves forward.
Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada has taken more of a participatory approach for resilience and identified ways to get involved or take action, in the community as the gateway to connection and general satisfaction. In some cases, the city promotes doing so by placing boots on the ground and in others they create both an in-person and online opportunity to provide feedback and input to the organization and community. The premise seems to be about finding your niche, the best way for you personally to get involved, and connecting with others while building community capacity toward collective problem-solving.
Cassowary Coast, Queensland, Australia created a hub, for disaster engagement after Cyclone Yasi wreaked havoc in its community in 2011. The site launched heavy with resource links and quick polls, surveys, and even the use of open forums. The site is utilized for many more types of consultations with the community currently but recovery and preparedness remain a live project with the many resources still accessible to the public.
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia launched Resilient Sydney, part of the 100 RC, to establish its resilience strategy and has utilized online engagement as a resource to inform the community. Given the preliminary stage of the strategy, their site is information-heavy and provides a mechanism for the community to submit information and feedback for its early design.
Boulder, Colorado, USA, also part of the 100 RC, created a resiliency-specific site, Resilient Together, which encompasses projects, concerns, and programs shared across the country. The city has utilized videos and photographs to make their space visually appealing and to try and connect the in-person and online experiences as well as to serve as a portal for in-person education and interaction opportunities. Marketing in the community is in its early stages and is happening through the inclusion of projects, and their target audiences, that fit underneath a resilience umbrella and are part of or tangent to the published strategy.
Regardless of where your community is with its resilience efforts—seeking clear definition, informing residents about the need for planning or further along the implementation schedule of a formal strategy, there is a role and benefit to including online engagement in that effort. Creating an electronic landing place for information is something all the cities identified have in common. The reach will be expanded and more residents will find a way and time to connect with you and one another through the inclusion of online tools. Increasing the openness of the conversation and starting it early in the planning process will benefit those developing the process. Looking to others who are further down the path is always a benefit and can be a time saver.