Community Power

Correspondent Marina Poole reflects on our most recent episode, “Building Resilience,” and a potential upside to natural disaster.

Climate change has become a hot issue for city planners around the world, as cities and communities increasingly face extreme weather events, such as the increased frequency and intensity of hurricanes. Typically, when we discuss boosting resilience to climate change, we hear about preserving natural lands and critical environmental areas, protecting water and air quality, and reusing already-developed land.

Those things are all essential, as is preparing our physical infrastructure for disaster. But what about our communities’ social infrastructure? The EPA’s Smart Growth program encourages developing cities in ways that bring homes closer to shops, offices, schools, and gathering spaces. Strengthening neighborhoods increases quality of life, makes communities economically competitive, and creates business opportunities. But, strong neighborhoods can mean much more than that.

We don’t often consider community power. Daniel Aldrich explains on this week’s episode that social capital in the form of strong neighborhoods, means significantly increased resilience and faster recovery in the case of natural disaster. People who don’t have that – frequently the elderly and other marginalized groups – can’t bounce back in the same ways as people with strong community support.

Communities that have lost their homes in a disaster must rethink how to live. In doing so, they have no choice but to rely upon the support of others, especially those that live within close proximity. For example, after the 2011 Japan earthquake, some condominiums created shared kitchens, shared eating areas, and shared play areas for the kids. These spaces for community gathering foster social capital by encouraging intimate interactions between neighbors.

The importance of this can be difficult to quantify, which is a large reason why recovery funding tends to go into physical infrastructure instead of social infrastructure. However, there are some pretty clever ways to quantify community power too. To learn more about it, download this week’s episode, Building Resilience, with Daniel Aldrich:


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