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What is Community Resilience?

How will our communities adapt to global warming, peak oil and the confounding influence of global-scale resource depletion, pollution and continued economic upheavals? It will be different everywhere but the successful communities will share one thing in common: they will be resilient. What exactly is community resilience? Glad you asked. The Oxford Concise English Dictionary defines resilience as:

readily recovering from shock, depression, etc

When considered in the context of community, the definition becomes more specific. The Canadian Centre for Community Renewal (CCCR) defines community resilience as: [an] intentional action to enhance the personal and collective capacity of its citizens and institutions to respond to and influence the course of social and economic change. I would also add environmental change to the mix as well.

According to CCCR, resilience can be understood through four dimensions, each with their own unique characteristics:

  1. People
  2. Organizations
  3. Resources
  4. Community Process

People

Leadership obviously plays a significant role in community resilience. To be effective, leadership must be representative of the community – no pandering to special interest groups allowed! It is also essential that the elected officials be visionary, willing to share power and be capable of working to solutions through consensus. This means that leaders must be able to engage community members to participate in significant decisions.

Other factors in the people dimension include: how much pride and attachment people feel about and towards their community. This is sadly lacking in many communities. This often comes back to visionary leadership or a lack thereof. Vancouver is doing a great job on this front, having recently released their Greenest City Initiative. Having a collective sense of pride feeds optimism and an air of optimism generally makes people more willing to co-operate on initiatives that contribute positively to the commons. All of these support resilience.

Finally, a community must contain a broad, diverse matrix of social capital to be able to self-address its major issues. A community can become aware of and enhance its social capital through asset mapping and ongoing educational efforts targeting all manner of residents and organizations.

Organizations

Resilient communities require a variety of community economic development (CED) organizations. These organizations must serve the needs of the community. This is realized through working partnerships that lead to ongoing synergistic and collaborative efforts.

Resources

Control of resources plays an enormous role in community resilience. Employment is the most prominent of all resources in this regard. It is essential that employment in a community be diversified beyond a single large employer and major employers in the community be locally owned. From the garden to the economy, diversity is key to weathering shifts in the larger environment. Systems lacking in diversity are rarely able to adapt to changing social and environmental conditions and thus become the victim of “creative destruction”. This dismal path can be avoided by adopting an active strategy of economic diversification through increased independent, local ownership. Local ownership, means local control which ignites and rewards initiative.

Other beneficial resources include an openness to alternative ways of generating sustainable economic activities and a general awareness of the community’s competitive position in the broader economy. Lastly communities must look outside itself to seek and secure resources (skills, expertise and finance) that will address identified areas of weakness.

Community Process

The final dimension of community resilience is community process. Community process first entails the creation of a community economic development (CED) plan that serves as a guide for current and future endeavors. Citizens and organizations must be involved in the creation and implementation of the plan, including a vision for the community as well as goals to realize that vision. A system must be established to ensure that there is on-going action towards achieving the goals in the CED plan with regular evaluation and course correction built into the process. This community process will be enhanced if it adopts a development approach that encompasses all segments of the population.

Wrap up

That was a mouthful! My brief synopsis of the dimensions and characteristics of resilient communities only scratched the surface. If this topic interests you, I would highly recommend a thorough look into the Community Resilience Project. For more information including a substantial report and tools and techniques encyclopedia, visit: Canadian Centre for Community Renewal.

This synopsis of community resilience was derived from The Community Resilience Project.

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