The Case for Cultivating Community Resilience

Submitted by sylvia cheuy on March 4, 2016 - 4:47am
Communities today are shaped and impacted by a myriad of complex issues and their ability to respond effectively. Communities that are resilient have the ability to sustain a sense of hope and purpose while adapting creatively in the face of challenges. Neighbourhoods and communities eager to develop their capacity for resilience will be inspired by Creating Resilient Communities: A How-To Resource Guide. It provides a comprehensive set of resources and case examples that illustrate the impact and value of cultivating community resilience.
The three primary ingredients of community resilience are: community resources, collaboration and collective action. Ultimately, it requires focusing on assets and emphasizing "... the existence, development and engagement of community resources by community members to thrive in an environment characterized by change, uncertainty, unpredictability and surprise."
The case for cultivating community resilience is most often linked to the issue of disaster preparedness however its value is much broader than that as it is equally important in providing neighbourhoods and communities with the ability to respond effectively - and creatively - to challenges related to health, education, employment or community infrastructure (such as housing or public transportation). Communities and neighbourhoods that know how to effectively leverage their resources, relationships and networks are much more likely to flourish and promote individual and community well-being.
The Six Characteristics of Community Resilience and Activities that Cultivate Them
What resilience looks like can vary considerably from one community or neighbourhood to another, however there are six characteristics that are consistently used to assess it. These are:
  1. The Capacity to Proactively Respond to Change - Recognizing the inevitability of change, resilient communities and neighbourhoods proactively take action during times of stability to prepare for future uncertainties.
  2. Social Connectedness - Frequent interaction with family, friends, neighbours and other community members builds our connection to one another and nurtures our sense of belonging, purpose and trust. Neighbourhoods and communities with high social connectedness have established the networks, norms and trust necessary to facilitate collective action. Block parties; murals and public art; community forums; oral history projects; and, "Share Your Talent" Parties are all tangible ways to strengthen social connectedness.
  3. Attitudes and Behaviours - The attitudes and behaviours that are prevalent in individuals and organizations within resilient communities include: having a positive outlook; being open to new ideas and experiences; and, having a strong commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Living Library projects are one example of activities that encourages the safe and respectful exploration of diverse perspectives.
  4. Shared Leadership - Leadership within resilient neighbourhoods and communities comes from across the entire community and has successfully attracted a diversity of strengths and skills to this role. Together, leaders exhibit excellent communications skills; demonstrate the ability to listen and learn; and, are skilled convenors who can build consensus. Civic Leadership Initiative Online and the Open Green Map are two resources that support the cultivation of shared leadership and knowledge.
  5. Resources and Infrastructure - Resilient neighbourhoods and communities have the resources and infrastructure to meet their citizens' needs. This includes: accessible and inviting parks and public spaces; libraries and community centres; robust institutions; and, accountable and transparent local governments. 
  6. A Strong Local Economy - Economic stability is a core element of resilient communities and requires a significant percentage of employers being locally owned. Economic security is defined in terms of equity, equality and ecological sustainability. Tool lending libraries; Repair cafés; clothing swap parties, gleaning, and community kitchens are all activities that support local economic security and stability as well as contribute to local enterprise.
Community engagement and participation are essential to building resilience. A shared, aspirational vision as well as a comprehensive and holistic view of the community's assets also serve as important touchstones in creating realistic and achievable plans for shared action. However, once these plans have been developed, there is no end to the creative ideas and strategies available to make your aspirations of community and neighbourhood resilience a reality.
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