Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Community Resilience and the HCVCCP

         The general meaning of resilience, derived from its Latin roots 'to jump or leap back', is the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. Resilience often refers to an ecosystem's stability and capability of tolerating disturbance while restoring itself (Walker, 2004).  Because our communities are inherently social-ecological in that they are linked systems of people and nature, the creation of sustainable communities requires understanding and consideration of the resilience and limits of the ecosystem in which the community is embedded.  The concept of resilience applies directly to communities as well and can be defined in this context as the capacity of the community to adapt and respond to adversity and external impacts such that they are strengthened and more resourceful.
In practical terms, resilience can be looked at as design strategy that aims to reduce system vulnerabilities, often by increasing diversity, flexibility and collaboration, improving redundancy in critical areas, supporting decentralization, and bolstering local capacity.  The term “design” is described by Wendell Berry as "solving for pattern," which leads to resilience by developing solutions that leverage reparability, redundancy, locality, and simplicity to simultaneously solve numerous problems. David Orr (2009) describes significant changes that have been building momentum in the design of resilient systems, all of which pertain to the creation of sustainable communities, including:
  • architecture powered by efficiency and renewable energy;
  • waste management in which all wastes are purified by natural processes;
  • agriculture that mimics natural systems;
  • renewable energy technologies;
  • advances in energy efficiency;
  • cradle-to-cradle and biomimetic production systems that create no waste;
  • urban planning and smart growth strategies that build ecologically coherent cities; and
  • tools for systems analysis that improve foresight, organizational learning, and policy integration.
The concept of community resilience has broad appeal in that it emphasizes greater community control of meeting their own needs through the development of local resources and capacity. This is simultaneously a socialist sentiment and one advocated by conservative thinkers that builds on the substantial skills, enthusiasm, assets and creativity within all communities. 
In considering the resilience of my community, it is clear that Columbia and Harper's Choice are facing many of the common problems of suburbia (i.e. lack of vitality, disconnection from community, lack of affordable housing, waning local merchant base, disappearing farm land, etc.). One of the particular challenges facing Columbia's Village Center based design is that they are struggling to remain viable in the face of the relatively recent development of a ring of large “big box stores” around the eastern edge of town.   The EarthCAT Guide to Community Development (2005) lists community centers as powerful leverage points in the creation of sustainable communities.  Since the construction of the chain store based shopping centers, we have seen the existing market-base drawn away from the community centers that were designed to be the accessible loci of activity for each village.  Several village centers in the community have seen more than half of their shops close in recent years because people are now driving greater distances to get to the big box retailers on the edge of town and forgoing the merchants that they could access by foot or bike.  Exacerbating this problem, the money spent at these large chains flows directly out of the local economy, as opposed to the local multiplier effect that occurs when money is spent with local businesses.  
In an effort to strengthen the resilience of Columbia's Village Centers in the face of this unplanned level of economic competition, in 2009 the County established the village redevelopment process, described elsewhere on this blog, which encourages the creation of Village Center Community Plans. The Harper's Choice Village Center Community Planning Committee seeks to make the Harper’s Choice Village Center an inviting community focal point that maintains a balanced, sustainable environment for current and future generations, hosts a strong core of merchants who are part of the community, and satisfies and adapts to day-to-day resident needs. Some specific aspects of the long term vision are to: reconfigure the center to make it more unified and pedestrian friendly, add more residential units, include features that make it more of a destination, model sustainable design best practices in new construction and in landscape integration with a focus on storm water management, and create a sense of character and place that sets it apart from other community centers and the larger shopping complexes. We are working to create community reliance by maximizing connections and supporting local fulfillment of needs.  

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