No city without neighborhoods

By februari 7, 2015 Algemeen

The old urban crisis, characterized by the decline of central cities, still has not been addressed adequately. Business districts shrank; economic, political, and cultural centers diminished in size and function; once-fashionable residential neighborhoods fell into decline; and deterioration, crime, and emerged in despair and poverty. Communities today face a complex range of social, environmental, and economic challenges. There is growing debt at household, government and corporate levels, and wages are not keeping pace with the cost of living. The gap between the rich and the poor is becoming bigger, not smaller. Many communities are seeing that new ways of addressing these challenges are needed, approaches which acknowledge the interrelated nature of these issues. Along with creating the ability to respond to shocks and threats, resilience on local level is about increasing a community’s capacity to respond pro-actively and enhance well-being even while under stress. A focus on resilience emphasizes the dynamic nature of communities and the fact that they are always changing.

Resilience… is not meant to justify a new round of social programs, even if they have more of an outreach focus. Rather, community resilience involves a philosophical shift in relations between local government and civil society that changes the parameters of how local communities organize and act.

A combined focus on urban level and neighborhoods stems from a growing movement recognizing that solutions and strategies to many of the global issues we face can be best found at the local level. A neighborhood focus emphasizes people’s connection to place, and provides a manageable scale where people can often see first-hand the impacts of their actions.

Some of the key characteristics of resilient neighborhoods include these less tangible aspects of community life such as connection between neighbors, residents’ sense of belonging and identity, respect for diversity and inclusion, and neighborhood attitudes. One key indicator of resilient communities and neighborhoods is the level of ‘social capital’ that exists:

Bonding capital is the close ties between people in similar situations – such as family and close friends. It builds trust, reciprocity, and a shared sense of belonging and identity.

Bridging capital is the looser ties to similar people, such as casual friends, colleagues, or people we meet through social networking sites. It builds broader, more flexible identi­ties, and enables innovations to be shared across networks.

Linking capital helps ensure that people with different levels of power and status meet and learn from one another. It is the ability of groups to access networks of power and resources beyond their immediate community.

Local economic resources are a foundation for a resilient community. Economic resources include access to equity capital, credit, human capital and expertise. Developing lo­cally-controlled sources of finance and capital can help empower a community to build enterprise and employment opportunities. resilience requires that we understand local economies in terms of community economic development and quality of life indicators; for example, increased tool sharing may be economically ‘bad’ in the short-term for a franchise hard­ware store located in a neighborhood, but economically ‘good’ over the long-term for the neighborhood overall. By focusing on increasing local control and ownership of key resources, businesses, and finance, communities are able to build their own resilience and decrease their vulnerability to external economic pressures.

Each community or neighborhood is unique, and there is no fixed recipe for building community resilience. However, while the context and process for strengthening resilience will vary for each community, we do know from existing research that resilient communities demonstrate common characteristics. It is important to note that resilience changes over time, and that it can be strengthened – the characteristics are not fixed. Part of this process is to help communities assess their resilience strengths and weaknesses and then create a strategy to fortify areas where they need to be more resilient.

Physical infrastructure and community design are vital in encouraging other aspects of resilience such as community cohesion, pride, diversity, and collaboration.

Resiliency recognizes that long-term solutions to a (acute or chronic) city issue may not exist in isolating and fixing just that issue; rather the ‘answer’ might lie in better understanding systemic relationships within the city and working to strengthen ostensibly disparate issues at the same time.”

A solid neighborhood resilience framework is based on the idea that also communities are complex systems. It challenges us to look at our communities and neighborhoods holistically, and move beyond sector-specific strategies which often attract a limited segment of the population. Instead, a resilience lens encourages us to consider the interconnections between community issues and systems, and to focus on long-term adaptive capacity that cuts across silos. This can help expand participation as we work to activate local institutions and social capital in ways that appeal to a wide range of interests of citizens from all walks of life. This kind of socially diverse cohesiveness helps meet challenges now, and in the future.