Community-based resilience (CBR) refers to the capacity of communities to learn from, sustain themselves through, and adapt to adversity, harnessing the values and goals that are most important to them.
Community-based resilience (CBR) views the community as an equal partner in decision-making alongside government and experts. This perspective differentiates CBR from traditional top-down resilience planning processes, in which communities receive and are subjected to design and planning decisions made by others with or without their input. Understandably, communities tend to resist changes directed at them without their full participation, because the outcomes don’t necessarily reflect the community’s values or visions for itself. Goh, Kian. “A Political Ecology of Design : Contested Visions of Urban Climate Change Adaptation.” Thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2015. https://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/101368 When governments and other authorities use improper engagement methods or don’t respect a community’s autonomy, agreement and partnerships can be difficult, even if a project brings new resources to the community.
There’s now a growing movement toward CBR, driven by the realization that top-down planning too often results in outcomes that are both inequitable (e.g., those most in need do not get the priority they deserve) and ineffective or even maladaptive (e.g., the strategies deployed do not prevent disasters or even make them worse). We believe that new tools and practices for implementing CBR are urgently needed, given the magnitude of planning necessary to scale up resilience efforts in response to climate change.
The experience of the Tribal communities in Southern Louisiana illustrates the failures of top-down planning. For example, in 2001 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided to align a new levee system that would leave out the highly vulnerable Isle de Jean Charles, the homeland of the Isle de Jean Charles Biloxi-Chitimacha Choctaw Tribe. The tribe spent years planning their resettlement as the community was devastated by storm after storm, before partnering with the state of Louisiana and receiving a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant of $48 million. The state subsequently changed the plan to focus on relocating individuals, rather than the tribe as a whole, and excluded the Tribal leadership from planning and budget decisions.
Five years after the award, the resettlement has still not been completed. In August 2021, Isle de Jean Charles was devastated by Hurricane Ida. The failure was in no way inevitable. The government’s focus on individual rights and a person-by-person planning process was misaligned with the tribe’s fundamental belief in internal consensus building and reconstituting the tribe in addition to relocating. The government’s planning effort also failed to acknowledge, let alone reverse, past injustices and strategic failures in planning that over time resulted in resettlement becoming the only viable option.
Understandably, communities tend to resist changes directed at them without their full participation, because the outcomes don’t necessarily reflect the community’s values or visions for itself. Goh, Kian. “A Political Ecology of Design: Contested Visions of Urban Climate Change Adaptation.” Thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2015. https://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/101368
With disasters increasing in frequency, local and state governments must help thousands of households relocate or adapt in place over the coming decades. This overwhelming challenge will require prioritizing projects based on concerns of equity and effectiveness. It makes practical sense to focus efforts on moving 50, 100, or even 1000 households together, as a community, whenever feasible and especially when those households are part of a close-knit socio-economic network. To be successful, however, the idea of community must remain flexible to different situations and must respect the rights of individuals to opt into or out of a given community and its adaptation plans. General principles of inclusion and democracy should be followed so that anyone sharing the broad aims and values of the community can join and have an equal say in decision making.
Every state and city should be rapidly piloting new resilience policy and planning frameworks while there is still time to learn and improve on them before they must be scaled up drastically. We believe three procedural justice principles should be followed at minimum as governments transition to community based adaptation planning.
- First, governments and outside decision makers must be transparent and open with the community so its members know what is happening and why.
- Second, the community is given substantive and irrevocable power over the planning process including the conceptualization (conceptual-power), optioneering (indirect-power), decision making (direct-power), and implementation of resilience and adaptation plans, including the decision to stay or leave a given location.
- And third, the community has the direct resource control (money, land, etc.) required to enact the mutually agreed upon adaptation plan as a bulwark against maladaptive or failed participatory processes. When the expertise required to control resources directly does exist within the community, the government should train the community to do so, or allow the community to find a third party to act on their behalf.
There are multiple challenges to successfully enacting community based resilience. The proper regulatory and legal mechanisms to provide communities with the forms of autonomy mentioned above are not yet (fully) established or distributed across the necessary governmental actors. They must be further developed and expanded quickly and with proper foresight. We suggest that current policy and laws that protect the autonomy of federally recognized tribes be used as a starting point, but be expanded to all other indigenous and non-indigenous communities.
Janelle Knox-Hayes & David Birge
Insights on community-based resilience
From Community Resilience to Climate Justice
- Danielle Rivera
- Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning
Department of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning
University of California Berkeley
Racially Equitable Resilience
- Stephen Gray
- Associate Professor of Urban Design
Graduate School of Design