Jaimie Hicks Masterson
Where to live? Resiliency in spite of climate change
In October, Jonah Engel Bromwich wrote an article for the New York Times entitled “Where should you live to...
In October, Jonah Engel Bromwich wrote an article for the New York Times entitled “Where should you live to escape the harshest effects of climate change?” The article hypothesizes about which cities will experience the least adverse hazard impacts from climate change. While researchers can map regional hazard trends and make projections based on climate scenarios, another way to frame the problem is by mapping community assets and the ways in which communities are resilient. Just because a community is more vulnerable, does not necessarily mean it will not be resilient. These concepts are not the inverse of one another. So what factors might indicate if a community will be resilient? Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Go to the places that are planning now.
The impacts of climate change will not happen overnight. Then again, planning and community development doesn't happen overnight either. Planning typically occurs forecasting 20 or 30 years out and land use decisions last far longer. Schools, roads, light rail, industry, and other factors make lasting impressions on our community. If a community is thinking about the impacts of climate change now, they are taking a step in the right direction, seeking to protect people and property of the future. Investments that are made now will be there as the tide rises and the land warms. So take a look at what your community is investing in now. Look at community plans, particularity comprehensive and land use plans.
- Are cities investing now in vulnerable areas?
- Is commercial and industrial development occurring in areas exposed to hazards?
- If they are developing in areas, is there consideration for shoring up investments with stricter building codes to withstand hazards or vertical elevation to combat flooding?
If there is no consideration for hazards, the effects of consequences on the people displaced, tax dollars lost, and property abandoned (among other things) will continue to ripple outward. Places like Rotterdam and Norfolk, VA (see Vision 2100) are at particular risk to sea level rise, but they are leaders in planning for it now and making investments for a community that will last another 100 years.
Communities participating in the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities are also taking steps toward resilience. Military bases across the country are also in preparation, including Camp Grayling, MI with the National Guard Adaptation Planning Pilot Project. Of course, communities should also make sure planning for climate change and hazards is folded into all areas of planning so that efforts aren’t contradictory. Are the various agencies within a community integrated and congruent? Are neighboring communities working together in a regional effort?
Go to places that are thinking about social vulnerability.
The cliche that “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” holds especially true in this area. Uplifting ‘the least of these’ increases a community’s resilience. We know that certain populations suffer disproportionately following a disaster, including racial and ethnic minorities, elderly, single parent households, those in poverty, and others.
- How are communities combatting homelessness and housing unaffordability now?
- Are communities segregated by race or income?
Inequities will only be exacerbated with the impacts of climate change. When a community focuses on providing opportunities and choices to all segments of the population, it is creating a stronger whole. For instance, King County, WA developed the Equity and Social Justice Strategic Plan to purposefully address and apply the theory of change. Community based organizations play an important role as well. Social service providers should work with populations to ensure eligibility issues are addressed, such as proof of ownership, tax issues, title issues, and heirship issues, which are common roadblocks. Social service workers should be trained to handle the complexities of disaster recovery, which will be chronic.
Go to places where cities engage the public.
Planning for climate change will not work without the participation of the people—it cannot be accomplished by technocrats. Cities and counties must listen to and understand the needs of their residents. Participatory local governance is built on mutual respect and buttresses community resilience. The National League of Cities has spotlighted communities like Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Austin for their bottom-up approach to community engagement. Not only do communities need to engage the public, but residents need get involved. Robert Putnam’s groundbreaking book, Bowling Alone, revealed an alarming lack of civic engagement and social capital in the U.S. Take advice from Woody Allen--"80% of life is showing up." So attend local meetings to make your concerns known, share your experiences, and influence local planning initiatives.
If you are living in a place now that is doing these things, great—your community will be better positioned to handle adverse impacts. If you are living in a place that is not doing these things, then get involved. We can come together to effect change. We can be resilient despite our vulnerabilities, but we have to start now.
The Coastal Triple Threat of Natural Hazards
Have you ever been to a community that was exposed to inland flooding, hurricane surge, and future sea level rise? A community that is exposed to such poor air quality that a 2005 Houston Chronicle report compared it to "sitting in...
Have you ever been to a community that was exposed to inland flooding, hurricane surge, and future sea level rise? A community that is exposed to such poor air quality that a 2005 Houston Chronicle report compared it to "sitting in traffic 24/7"? Welcome to the super neighborhoods of Manchester, Harrisburg, and Magnolia Park, adjacent to oil refineries and the Houston Ship Channel in East Houston, Texas.
These communities are the focus of collaborative research and application at Texas A&M University to understand the coastal "triple threat" of natural hazards, particularly as it intersects with physically vulnerable built environments and socially vulnerable populations. The project is called the Resilience and Climate Change Cooperative Project (R3CP) and we believe it employs an underutilized approach to identify and tackle critical disaster resiliency and climate change challenges that threaten coastal cities around the world.
Graphic Courtesy of Jaimie Masterson.
Our collaborative team is made up of over 30 professors and graduate students, and regularly consults representatives from grassroots environmental justice groups working in targeted neighborhoods. The university partners include climatologists, hydrologists, epidemiologists, sociologists, urban planners, landscape architects, public policy analysts, geographers, and housing specialists. Among the environmental justice partners is Juan Parras, director of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s.) and recipient of the Sierra Club's 2015 Robert Bullard Environmental Justice award. To date, Juan and others have played a principal role in crafting research questions and organizing the collection of data for this project. Going forward, the team will work together to translate the research into an agenda for policy and action. University and community partners have a few goals in particular:
- Collect new data and synthesize existing information on how coastal social and physical systems work.
- Foster citizen science, community engagement, and education models.
- Initiate a demonstration project in communities with a history of environmental justice issues.
You see, the R3CP believes in the importance of creating long-term change through co-learning with communities around strategic needs while supporting communities in actualizing their own resilience. We did not want to just observe the community and extract data, instead we chose to work collaboratively to increase the community’s adaptive capacity through community action and citizen science. We want to put research tools and technical knowledge in the hands of residents so they are empowered to transform their own future. For example, t.e.j.a.s. introduced us to Furr High School’s Green Institute, a Green Ambassador Woodsy Owl Conservation Corps (Green Ambassadors). Support for the Green Ambassadors at Furr comes from the U.S. Forest Service Friends of the National Forests and Grasslands in Texas - Latino Legacy. The teachers and students at Furr, many of whom live in the targeted neighborhoods, were trained on three data collection methods. First, using ESRI’s ArcCollector application for smart phones and tablets, students learned to document pooling and ponding water. Second, using ESRI’s Survey123 application for smart phones and tablets, students learned to assess and inventory the quality of stormwater infrastructure. Third, students learned to sample pooling and ponding water and test levels of heavy metals. In each instance (i.e., pooling/ponding water, water quality, and infrastructure), students understood the implications of poor results on health outcomes in the neighborhoods.
The results of this citizen science will guide future R3CP conversations about what additional knowledge is necessary and what strategies are most appropriate for addressingthe complex issues linked to disaster resiliency.
Jaimie Masterson poses with Furr High School Green Ambassador students, their teachers, and Texas A&M graduate students. Photo Courtesy of Jaimie Masterson