How do communities bounce back?

As we work to increase food security in low-income communities, we see a lot about the notion of “community resilience.”  Resilience means different things in different contexts. Some define it as a community’s ability to respond in the face of natural disasters or violence. Others view it as the ability to respond to global resource depletion. Nearly all agree that resilient communities “bounce back” from adversity. When a crisis occurs, these communities reclaim the sense of place that was lost. They are healthy because they have a diverse set of resources to tap into (they’ve planned for the unplannable).

Resilient communities have networks that allow them to share information when adversity strikes.  People who live here can get their community narratives heard.  They’re well-aware of “who are the people in your neighborhood” and they build meaningful relationships around that knowledge.  They promote sustainable practices that help them shape their own future – they sustain environments, sustain networks, sustain hope.

Community resiliency is small scale, local and grassroots. And it is also marked by diversity (ie: independent and local ownership).

How to get the bounce?

In general, a resilient community has physical and psychological community space – parks, town halls, social networks, political will.  Informal community space is required to get people to socialize, communicate and lead. People in resilient communities also have a sense of identity with place – it’s their home, the place they come back to.

People will be able to adapt to change if they can initiate action (ie: if they can make decisions to fix the bad things that happen).  So, we want to create those informal spaces where people interact, discover similar values, cultural customs and participate in running their community.  Local spaces like community gardens and farmers markets facilitate interactions.

A resilient community also needs the quality of life improvements that create community security.  These can be economic, safety and nutritional improvements.  We are working on improving food security to decrease food deserts and limit other food crises.  That means we have to show that growing food is not menial, but a way to strengthen a community and make it healthy.

And where does sustainability fit in?  A sustainable community is one that has resources to endure.  Resiliency is the ability to return to those strong sustainable practices in the face of difficulty.

If you build it, will they come?

Not to sound like an episode of Lost, but, if it is built, they are already there. In other words, a resilient community is already the people that have built it.  These are residents who gather in the informal community spaces.  They remember past difficulties and can explain how to survive new ones.

Food justice issues are ideally addressed at the community level. Decisions about large-scale food production have been removed from localities – especially poorer areas.  As such, decisions about who gets what and where is out of the hands of low-income communities. (We’ve talked about the resulting food deserts in past posts.) Urban agriculture has the potential to increase community resilience because it promotes meaningful relationships, sustainable practices and food security.

Is your community resilient?  It’s not always clear that even the most affluent community is.  Are your narratives heard? Do you have opportunities to engage socially with neighbors?  In the face of crisis, would your community bounce back?

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2 thoughts on “How do communities bounce back?

  1. Pingback: Unplanning « home&community inc

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