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Economists, working backwards over the 20th century, argue that modern societies can cope with the losses from disasters. The future, however, looks different. Since the early s, the frequency and the cost of very large disasters have increased dramatically.
Governments are often overwhelmed by their scale, which make a mockery of tidy administrative arrangements and plans drawn up by experts. The spillover across borders adds a further complication: whether supply chains are disrupted or epidemics are carried across borders, sovereignty is a weak defense.
At the NewCities Summit in Songdo, Korea, leaders from cities and international agencies discussed resilience, or how people cope with a disaster, and how society copes with the lessons for the future. Is resilience the result of good community development, as Lianne Dalziel, Mayor of Christchurch, argued?
People come to Christchurch, where a deadly earthquake hit in February , to see what a positive difference strong social capital makes. But Dalziel noted that the citizens of Christchurch are tired of being considered exceptional. Unfortunately, given the current attention to widening disparities, a high level of social capital cannot be taken for granted. Some governments — as Joseph Runzo-Inada of the City of Toyoma, Japan explained — are helping community associations enhance the factors that make a society more resilient — including ties across generations and neighborhoods, local leaders, etc.
Inequality translates into greater vulnerability for some, and less risk for others.
How local resilience creates sustainable societies : hard to make, hard to break
Many things that promote community development, reduce disparities and lifestyle related health problems, improve lifelong learning, alleviate congestion and build links across neighborhoods are central to making a city a better place to live. A city does not need a disaster to benefit from investing in resilience.
Nevertheless, resilience may be a tough sell to a public with a short-term perspective on risk. Resilience combines social and physical capital, but this simple statement masks a larger problem: it is easier to focus political attention on cost effective measures to protect buildings and infrastructure, work undertaken by engineers and checked off the list.
Building resilience through enriching social capital is a long-term strategy and is difficult to evaluate. For example, news reports on major floods and climate change look at what should be built — and where — while skipping questions about how communities can organise to make better decisions or cope with a disaster if one should occur. Who should do what? Most of the factors that make a difference — education, healthcare, local transport, community development as well as building codes and their enforcement, environmental management — are the responsibility of local authorities, whose capacity for innovation and whose priorities may be fixed within national policy frameworks.
National governments may be reluctant to help finance and promote local initiatives to improve resilience. Localism Without Local Government 4. Devolving responsibility 4. Negotiated rights and sanctions 5.
The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience
The harmonised constitution 6. Just Cities 7. Incentivised migration to compact cities 7. Urban development and the green economy 8. Decoupling vested interests 9.
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Smarter and less frequent interventions Infused resilience: a theory of change What you need to do next Philip Monaghan is an internationally recognised writer and strategist on economic development and environmental sustainability. Routledge eBooks are available through VitalSource.
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