“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
What is Community Resilience?
Resilience describes the capacity of communities to function, so that the people living and working in a community– particularly the poor and vulnerable – survive and thrive no matter what stresses or shocks they encounter.
Resilience depends not only on a community’s physical assets, but also its policies, its capacity to meet community needs, the extent of the community’s active involvement, its institutions, and the community’s local available resources.
The Goal of Resilience Planning?
To assess the community’s qualities (assets) and vulnerabilities (impediments to resilience), and to make a road map to the future (resilience planning) based on the identified community needs, through a strong leadership and public participation process.
To date, resilience planning has focused on urban and metropolitan cities and communities, rather than America’s rural areas, especially in urban-centric states like California. Additionally, most research and case study of resilience planning have focused on specific resilience issues (like infrastructure or economic development) and not general, holistic, community-wide resiliency.
Unlike urban communities, rural towns, villages or unincorporated communities, even those not considered disadvantaged, have significant gaps in capacity. The four capacity gaps most likely to impede resilience and the planning process are local available funds (capital), social capital, local staffing, and local knowledge.
While urban communities have greater capacity, with the economy of scale they possess, rural communities struggle to do what is needed to maintain a community. Little is left to grow a community or plan a future.
To this end, the process outline below is an adaptation of other urban planning processes[i] and one test case in Weed, California. This will likely require additional alterations as other case studies and field tests become available. Consider this a living document that will be updated with more time and experience.
To help understand what rural community resilience planning is, it’s helpful to consider the process as a mixture of two other planning processes/subject matters: hazard mitigation and community development.
Hazard Mitigation: can be defined as any sustained action taken to reduce or eliminate the long-term risk to life and property from hazard events. It is an on-going process that occurs before, during, and after disasters and serves to break the cycle of damage and repair in hazardous areas.
Community Development: is the combined and coordinated efforts of diverse and representative group of community members (civic leaders, activists, involved citizens, businesses, NGO’s and professionals) to take collective action and generate solutions (plans) for common problems, building a livable, sustainable community in the process.
Combining the two approaches into community planning will create a process best able to develop a long-term resilience plan for rural communities.
The process and the tasks below service multiple purposes with secondary benefits. The primary purpose is to have a plan, a road map to a resilient community. A finished plan will allow communities to have a path forward and give incoming civil servants and leaders a direction to work from.
But in addition to this obvious value of a finished resilience plan, the process below is designed to have other benefits. Experience has shown, for example, that while many disadvantaged rural communities complete planning studies, the majority never get implemented. This process has several tasks designed to ensure that the plan will be implemented. The goal of these tasks is to create a process that addresses the capacity issues that must be overcome by disadvantaged communities to increase the chances of implementation.
Additionally, experience tells us that engaging community members is not only very time consuming but can be disruptive to a planning process. This process believes that by engaging the whole community, you not only get a truly holistic view of the community, but with training these engage community member becomes the community’s future volunteers, leaders, and educators.
A Few Considerations
Six Phases of the Rural Community Resilience Planning Process
Rural community resilience planning can be broken down into six phases. In many ways, this phased process can also be circular. Once ended, it can start again.
Each phase will have a series of tasks to be completed. These tasks are in no order of prioritization or lineation. As each community and their participants are unique, the process leaves the ordering or prioritizing of the tasks to the individual communities.
The list of tasks is not all inclusive. Additional tasks can be added. Caution should be taken when removing any task, however, as they are designed to help complete the phases.
Also, communities may find they need to go back to an earlier task for revision purposes. For example, the Area of Concern may change as the participants move further into the process. Mapping of significant assets in the community may result in sites/locations needing to be added.
[i] The following urban resilience processes were used as a starting point for developing this rural resilience process. In addition, this process is based on a field test case done in Weed, California.