Community Resilience

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  • Melody Woosley
  • Jessica Dovalina
    Assistant Director
  • Patrick Steck
    Assistant Director
What is Community Resilience?

Community resilience, described as the “thriving and bouncing back [and forward] from environmental and social shocks,” continues to grow as an area of study and a guide to building better cities. Though there is a greater focus on urban areas, rural areas have similar concerns, from natural disasters to demographic shifts. 

While community resilience is becoming more reliant on technology, people are still “at the heart of the process,” which falls in line with the observation that “sustainability and resilience depends on the continuous development of human and social capitals” (Arup online n.d.; McDermott et al 2016) This emphasis on human and social capitals is new: previously, too much focus went to physical capitals (e.g. products and services).

Dimensions of Resilience

Arup, a multinational group that helps clients become more resilient, is a leader on global community resilience research, both from its own research and is worldwide experience. Arup has come up with the “4 Dimensions of Resilience,” the claims of which are backed up by other research. According to Arup’s research, a resilient community has the following:

  • Health and well-being includes people’s basic needs, work/educational opportunities, and emergency services and is measured by standard of living (Arup n.d.). The Open Data Institute believes this aspect can be accessed by “open data,” data that is accessible by everyone. Though this can be seen from a simple open job ad, a more extreme example can be seen from Burkina Faso, where an open-data election halted takeovers because everyone had real-time results.
  • Economy and society involves diversity and social inclusion, creating a “collective identity” (Arup n.d.). According to Pfefferbaum et al. (2015), social equity is strong in regions of high or growing prosperity and can be strengthened by “community engagement [and] empowerment.” Another crucial part of this dimension is sustainability, which can be achieved through a combination of asset-based and needs-based approaches to resilience; a community needs to make the most of internal resources but realize its own limits (Arup n.d.).
  • Infrastructure and ecosystems is more than having structures to withstand the environment: this dimension is about trust. If people trust their home, they are more likely to stay and help rebuild the community after a natural disaster. This was seen in Surat, India after a flood tore a community apart (Arup n.d.). This trust allows for a better insight into how a community can prosper and provide the motivation to see this through. Also part of this dimension is the maintenance of basic services, which provides the basic needs under “health and well-being.”
  • Leadership and strategy provide the knowledge needed to maintain the other dimensions –but only when conditions are efficiently met. Leader collaboration is key and results in projects, such as the Paris Agreement between almost 200 countries to reduce greenhouse gases, which seek to better lives. Right behind these leaders are stakeholders; Pfefferbaum et al found multiple stakeholders increase awareness and preparedness, which easily goes back to economy and society (2015). Lastly, strong leadership and strategy help effective planning for future integration (Brooks, Vorley, & Williams 2016). For example, extensive planning helped post-apartheid Cape Town, South Africa create a foundation for a more inclusive society (Arup n.d.).

Research goes further to describe qualities found in various global resilient communities (Arup n.d.):

  • “Reflective,” or can understand and learn from mistakes
  • “Robust,” or able to anticipate and endure future disasters
  • “Redundant,” or made with extra provisions to prepare for unforeseeable circumstances
  • “Flexible,” or adaptable in an ever-changing world (especially with technology)
What can this mean for San Antonio?

According to a 2015 case study by Chris Benner and Manuel Pastor, San Antonio is seen as a prime example of community resilience. Though San Antonio still bears the burden of being the most economically divided city in America (i.e. the largest gap between the richest and poorest), the city has come a long way in the past 30-40 years to overcome previous disadvantages, including an Anglo elite in an ever-growing Latino population. During this time period, San Antonio has welcomed an array of economic opportunities with tourism, military, medicine, energy, and manufacturing industries. San Antonio was ready and able to take on these growing industries after the closing of the Levi Strauss factory forced the need for a new approach.

Ultimately, leaders chose an asset-based approach and proceeded to invest in San Antonians with Project QUEST (Quality Employment through Skills Training). This initiative sought out low income individuals and families to ensure they had the work and learning opportunities needed to thrive. Project QUEST has been a crucial method to ensuring San Antonio is ready to tackle other obstacles.

More recently, San Antonio Council implemented a revered pre-kindergarten program, PreK4SA. An early start for the future workforce, this initiative creates opportunities for both kids and parents (the latter of whom have better work opportunities sooner).

San Antonio seems to have done a great job at either reacting to or identifying its weaknesses and coming together as a community to support methods to become stronger. Benner and Pastor give credit to the city’s history of diversity, inclusion, and “faith-rooted social movements” (2015).

Works Cited
  • ARUP, . (n.d.). City Resilience Index (pp. 15-45). N.p.: The Rockefeller Foundation.
  • Benner, C., & Pastor, M. (2015, February 27). Whither resilient regions? Equity, growth and community. Journal of Urban Affairs, 38(1), 16-21.
  • Brooks, C., Vorley, T., & Williams, N. (2016). The role of civic leadership in fostering economic resilience in city regions. Policy Studies, 37(1), 4.
  • McDermott, T., Folds, D., Hutto, C., & Nadowlski, M. (2016, December). A human-focused, holistic model of community resilience [Electronic version]. Insight, 19(4), 66-99. doi:10.1002/inst.12132
  • Pfefferbaum, B., Pfefferbaum, R. L., & Van Horn, R. L. (2015). Community resilience interventions: Participatory, assessment-based action-oriented process [Electronic version]. American Behavioral Scientist, 59(2), 238-253. doi:10.1177/0002764214550298
  • Unknown. A smart city is an open city (n.d.). In Open Data Institute. Retrieved July 20, 2017
  • Unknown. Smart Cities. (n.d.). Retrieved July 20, 2017.
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