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The Meaning and Impact of Community Resilience

Information gathered from Hogg Blog “The Meaning and Impact of Community Resilience” By Josephine Gurch, Published May 16th, 2018

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“When I think about resilience at the community level,” Lourdes Rodriguez says, “I think about communities that understand that the conditions creating adversity are bigger than the individual.”

In physics, resilience is an object’s ability to bounce back into its original form after sustaining a shock. In communities, it means something much more.

Wendy Ellis, project director of the Building Community Resilience (BCR) collaborative at the Milken Institute of Public Health at George Washington University, associates community resilience with an ability to “bounce forward”—moving forward, in the wake of disasters like Hurricane Harvey, towards more equitable living conditions.

This week on Into the Fold, Ellis and Lourdes Rodriguez, director of the Center for Place-Based Initiatives at Dell Medical School, spoke with host Ike Evans about what community resilience really means—and how individuals and institutions can come together to achieve it.

Bouncing Forward: Avoiding a Return to Inequity

Two kinds of disaster, or shock, can be used to talk about a community’s resilience: “acute” (e.g. Hurricane Harvey), and “chronic.” According to Rodriguez, the latter category consists of “disasters of the everyday”—the social, economic, and structural sources of adversity that persist over time.

“I think about acute disasters as a magnifying glass that helps us understand the tender points…[points] that are putting communities in vulnerable positions,” Rodriguez says.

Acute disasters reveal not only the true severity and extent of chronic disasters, but the deep-seated attitudes and cultural beliefs that sustain them as well. When survival is treated as something reserved for the deserving alone, the prejudices that stratify community spaces—everything from housing to local retain and clinical services—become startlingly clear. “Even empathy,” Ellis says, “is rationed.”

“If we think about addressing resilience as something that people have to deserve,” Rodriguez says, “then we are undermining this idea that communities can bounce forward.”

If resilience is to be achieved, community leaders can’t afford to ignore the vast gaps and inequalities that leave individuals unprotected. “At the end of the day, when we’re talking about resilience, we’re looking through the lens of equity,” Ellis says. “So resilience does equal equity, ant there’s no resilience with disparity.”