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US cities look to invest in resilience hubs

Neighborhoods with extensive social capital are better equipped to bounce back after disasters. The presence of schools, playgrounds, parks, and recreational spaces allow for social cohesion and a heightened ability to recover after incidents like heat waves, floods, and power outages. Research by GRI faculty affiliate Daniel Aldrich has shown that social networks provide valuable benefits to society and improve recovery post disaster. This why some US cities, like Washington DC, Miami and Baltimore, are looking into the benefits of resilience hubs; facilities that aim to serve communities in the event of an emergency, in addition to being spaces which can be used for year-round activities, training, and events.

A mobile FEMA disaster recovery center, showcasing the temporary nature of many recovery efforts. (Source WikimediaCommons/Marvin Nauman)

An idea first developed by the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, resilience hubs “support residents and coordinate communication and resources before, during, and after disruption.” The Urban Sustainability Directors Network’s idea of a resilience hub is one that seeks to bridge the gap between the concept of a shelter that is only used in a disaster, and a community center which is heavily relied upon but are not prepared for an emergency situation. By fusing the two together, resilience hubs leverage the established resources of a community to bolster their resilience strategy. The ideal hub is a space that already exists as a trusted and utilized space for the community to gather. Once this has been identified, the space can be transformed into a resilience hub after substantial and comprehensive planning is undergone to assess and strengthen resilience.

The Network states that the most important quality of a resilience hub is for it to be supported and desired by the stakeholders and members of the community it will serve. This is essential in the development of each hub, as centers that are designed and organized by community members are more likely to be trusted in the event of an emergency. Additionally, resilience hubs are most successful when they allow local community leaders to build unity and leadership among their neighbors in a structure that is supported by (but not replaced by) local government. The hub’s dual functionality as a center of social capital and shelter from a wide range of threats is the result of its focus on the principles of “preparedness, adaptation, mitigation, and equity,” which are core elements to resilience building.

A pilot program of the resilience hub has taken off in Ann Arbor, Michigan. There, community advocates studied the preferences and tendencies of the community and found that there was a high level of trust in the relationship between neighbors and local firefighters, so a hub was established at a nearby firehouse. Another city which has taken an interest in developing a hub is Cambridge, Massachusetts. Planners there are emphasizing the need to ensure that the hub’s space is in good physical standing. This includes learning about the building’s roof condition, plumbing and electricity reliability, and ability to handle flooding. Additionally, each of these hubs is planning to adapt to the needs of its setting. This means that the hub’s need to withstand various environmental shocks like earthquakes, hurricanes and snowfall must be evaluated. An ideal hub will also have emergency supplies like blankets, food and medical kits. As more cities look to mitigate risk and combat the threats to the well-being of society, resilience hubs can serve to build upon existing social networks.

Sources and further reading

‘Resilience hubs’ equipped with solar panels could protect communities when disaster strikesYale Climate Connections

Resilience Hubs White Paper – Urban Sustainability Directors Network

The Importance of Social Capital in Building Community Resilience –  Rethinking Resilience, Adaptation and Transformation in a Time of Change

Resilience Hubs: How Communities are Getting Started – Kim Lundgren Associates

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