Urban Resilience and the Importance of Community
Social inequality, lack of affordable housing, extreme weather, urban growth pressures, and social disconnection are all symptoms of 21st century urban life. These issues can be overwhelming, leaving individual citizens feeling powerless. In a world of intense globalisation, climate change and mass urbanisation, CoDesign believes in the power of community and local action.
Urban resilience is a concept that recognises the capacity of humanity to adapt, grow and survive in the face of change and upheaval. The ‘resilience movement’ has gained traction all over the world as organisations and governments attempt to address the widespread challenges of the 21st century that are becoming harder to ignore. The Paris Agreement, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, 100 Resilient Cities and the New Urban Agenda (adopted at Habitat III in 2016) all represent the desire and capacity of humanity to work together and plan ahead. We’re shifting our focus from reaction to preparation. The Australian Government Productivity Commission found that 97% of disaster funding in Australia is spent on response activities rather than on prevention and mitigation. This helped highlight a gap in our approach to dealing with urban shocks and stresses.
While urban challenges are widespread, each community has their own unique context and range of challenges. This is why we believe in the power and importance of local level, community-led solutions. We know that community members are the experts when it comes to their own needs.
Not only does community led design lead to a higher likelihood of meeting the needs of a community, it leads to the development of community networks, leadership, knowledge and capacity. We believe this social capital is the foundation of urban resilience.
Through mobilising citizens to get involved in their neighbourhood in a practical way, we’ve proved that giving people a shared goal is a successful way of creating social capital. We found that on average, community-led projects have 30 additional community members supporting project delivery. These projects have not only been an effective way for people to connect, but have helped map out local skills and assets which build local resilience.
In times of changing climatic patterns and rising natural disasters, community connections can create buffers of safety and networks of resources. Sociologist Eric Kleinberg investigated the effects of social connection during the devastating 1995 Chicago heat wave where 739 lives were lost. He found that one neighbourhood which had much higher levels of community connection reported significantly lower death rates. This neighbourhood had active streets, where people hung out on sidewalks and in front of local churches and shops. People knew one another, and it was common to belong to a block club or church group. People knew who to keep tabs on during the heatwave, and were able to congregate and share resources. Daniel Aldrich, in his book Building Resilience: Social capital in post-disaster recovery, discusses how socially connected communities have the capability to rebuild much faster. Citing Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, he found it was the network of friends and acquaintances who helped survivors coordinate effective and immediate reconstructions of their neighbourhoods.
This understanding of the importance of community connection is the driving force behind The Neighbourhood Project and the rest of our work at CoDesign. We hope to contribute to Melbourne’s resilience to future challenges by:
- Facilitating the creation and activation of urban places that encourage people to leave their house and be present in the community.
- Mobilising citizens to lead community led placemaking. Social capital is created through the process of working together for a shared purpose.
- Creating an enabling environment to support local leaders and equipping communities with the tools and know-how to develop and maintain their own community projects.
With these steps, we aim to encourage communities to support each other in times of need and be prepared for whatever challenges the future may hold.
By Ella Quinn