Resilient communities, cohesive communities

We are more than half way through a year, which has felt to me like one of nothing but global unrest. On a daily basis, shocking news stories are, sadly, no longer a surprise. Yet, from this feeling of instability and uncertainty, comes a reiterated emphasis on the importance of community resilience and cohesion.

Resilience is about being able to recover from something quickly, or dust yourself off and spring back into shape. Resilience is vital as the world becomes a tougher place to be and more challenges lay ahead in terms of climate change, social and economic issues, and demands on infrastructure. Becoming resilient may not entail change exactly, but requires the ability to think about how we’re doing things so that we can adapt and respond quickly – and try and maintain a status quo when under pressure. In a sense, it’s similar to sustainability – it’s about planning ahead to future proof aspects of our lives. It’s just as sensible too, predicting what the years ahead might hold and considering how we can adapt our behaviour  to be robust and avoid any fall out.

We talk about businesses being resilient, bouncing back from financial crisis, or encouraging teenagers to be more resilient to prepare them for adult life. Now a key part of planning and sustaining our physical spaces is considering how they can be resilient.

St Louis in Missouri, USA has just appointed it’s first ever Chief Resilience Officer to help the city prepare for and respond to events ranging from floods and tornadoes to violence and riots – which they call real ‘shock’ and ‘stress’ concerns for the city. St Louis is part of the 100 Resilient Cities initiative, a £100m global project run by the Rockerfeller Foundation. For St Louis a key area of resilience is flood prevention and response. Through the program, lower-lying areas of the city are protected by a combination of levees, floodwalls, and pump stations.

But as Michael Berkowitz, President of 100 Resilient Cities, puts it, “building resilience is not only about improving physical infrastructure … It’s also about making our communities more cohesive. Cohesive communities are ones where neighbors check on neighbors. They are connected and self-reliant, pulling together in emergencies. They are also more integrated, resourceful, and equitable in good times too.” Berkowitz’s point about cohesive communities was inspired by Barack Obama’s tweet this week that suggested during this week’s hot weather in the US, people should indeed ‘check on your neighbors’.

Westminster City Council are using the EngagementHQ* platform to get residents from ‘one of the most diverse places in the world, with hundreds of thousands of people from different backgrounds’ involved in their Community Cohesion Commission, using brainstorming and story telling tools to facilitate discussion on what cohesion means to them.

I would suggest that as more communities think cohesively, valuing one another and working collaboratively, the fewer social challenges we should face. In the meantime, we also need to ensure resilience is a key thread that runs through all our future planning.

*Jessica Topham is Bang the Table’s representative in the UK

Photo: George Thomas/

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