Resilience Is About Taking Ownership

In the aftermath of the major hurricane that just hit the Philippines, a panel at the 2013 Greenbuild conference in Philadelphia focused on a theme of major importance for all sustainable design professions: resilience. A panel comprised of Mayor Bob Dixson, Greensburg, Kansas; Maj. Gen. Warren Edwards, USA (Ret.), Community and Regional Resilience Institute; and Jon Powers, White House Council on Environmental Quality, explored how to get more communities to prepare for disaster and recover more quickly.

“We were all homeless after a matter of minutes,” said Mayor Dixson, remembering the supercell tornado that demolished his town, Greensburg, Kansas, in 2007. In these instances, “the most true and resilient thing we have in life is our relationships with each other.” He prompted the crowd to think about their city or town. No matter how small, “you are never in the middle of nowhere; you are in the middle of everywhere.” Harnessing the power of a strong community is then an integral part of rebuilding a city wrecked with disaster.

At another session at the 2013 Greenbuild, Alex Wilson, Resilient Design Institute, highlighted a hands-on approach to resiliency. Wilson explained that in places recently affected by Hurricane Sandy, homeowners and business owners are implementing resiliency upgrades—on their own dime—to keep themselves, their tenants, and their businesses safe.

On this effort, Dixson argued that we shouldn’t wait for a disaster to deal with these safety issues. “Be an owner,” he said, “not a renter.”

Edwards expanded the issues to the scale of a major city like San Francisco and Philadelphia, asking, “How do we induce our urban communities to take on that hard work of becoming prepared before the disaster happens?”

Edwards answered his own question, explaining how policy makers need to understand that resiliency not only increases security and safety, but is also good business. Putting dollar signs and hard facts behind the benefits of resilience is the only way to make sure these policy makers become “owners” of their towns.

Communities can only get so prepared on their own though. Designers also need to take the lead and become owners, too. Earlier this month, The Dirt posted Three Perspectives on Designing Resilient Cities, showing three takes on urban resilience that show how “urban design can act as an agent of change.”

Design must be accessible though. When asked about resilience versus sustainability, and whether the two go hand-in-hand, Warren said that once “you get down on the ground and you talk to the communities, they’re not interested in definitions.” They care about the big picture—“What will this mean for my town?”—and they want to receive tools that can help. The issue in many communities is access to information.

President Obama has asked governors, mayors, and tribal leaders to look at all of their resiliency resources to create a national toolkit to help advance resilience, according to Powers. This toolkit would be available to all communities. The goal will be to help communities invest in resilience and save lives.

While at Greenbuild, Mayor Dixson received the Mayor Richard Daley legacy award for global leadership in creating sustainable cities.

Watch the full video of this panel discussion:

This guest post is by Phil Stamper, ASLA PR and Communications Coordinator.

Image credit: Philippines / Erik De Castro/REUTERS

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