PopTech Blog

A new poll shows the value of community in a disaster

In a major disruption it is family, friends and neighbors that seem to matter the most. A new survey of people in areas impacted by Superstorm Sandy shows that they found those in their immediate community to be most helpful before, during and after the storm. Only seven percent of those surveyed said the storm brought out the worst in their neighbors. 

Aid organizations like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army as well as first responders were also considered particularly helpful in Sandy's wake. But state and federal governments as well as utility companies polled relatively poorly. Sadly, the poll also showed that the impact of the storm continues to disrupt the daily lives and social relationships of people in many communities affected by Sandy. 

City Resilient

The survey of more than 2,000 people in neighborhoods hit hard by Sandy was conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, a partner in PopTech's "The City Resilient," a summit on community resilience held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on June 24. "Our survey data powerfully illustrate how important the help of friends, family and neighbors can be in getting people back on their feet after natural disasters," AP-NORC Center Director Trevor Tompson said of the data. Tompson is also a speaker at "The City Resilient." 

Photo credit for front-page fire hydrant photo: Czarsy via Compfight cc

Astrid Scholz brings green, smart development to 'The City Resilient'

Like all PopTech audiences, the crowd attending the upcoming event, "The City Resilient," will be filled with people of extraordinary talent and knowledge. As examples, PopTech asked a handful of these thought leaders to answer three questions about their work and their views on community resilience. Here is Dr. Astrid Scholz, President of Ecotrust.

Please briefly describe your work and your typical working day.

My typical working day changed quite a bit in December of last year, when I stepped into the role of President of Ecotrust, a 22-year-old organization based in Portland, Oregon working at the intersection of social, economic, and environmental change. We are working to foster the resilience of systems that are critical to our wellbeing, such as Food and Farms, Forests, Fisheries, Finance, and the Built Environment, to name a few. I lead a staff of 65 with deep sectoral expertise in these areas, as well as in cross-cutting disciplines—economic analysis, creative finance, mapping, GIS, software development, and storytelling.

Astrid Scholz

We are a hybrid organization, using a mix of for-profit and nonprofit initiatives to drive transformative change in the region where we live and work. We believe that resilient solutions arise from the intimate relationship between people and the places where they live, and the specific characteristics of the natural, social and environmental assets of those places. Building on those relationships, we work on disruptive institutional innovations, which we then try to scale through the use of public, private, and philanthropic capital.

While our work is grounded in the region where we live, we recognize that the challenges we face in the 21st century are global in nature. So we see our home as a living laboratory, where we experiment and prove out resilience approaches that we are now more actively working to share with other regions, and to learn from them as part of a larger community of resilience practitioners. 

 

How does your work relate to efforts to build resilient communities?

At its core, resilience is the capacity to influence and adapt to change. Creating resilient communities involves the adoption of principles and practices that foster that capacity, especially with an understanding of specific social, economic, or ecological vulnerabilities that a particular community might face. In our recent report, Resilience and Transformation, we describe this approach, and how it requires a shift from top-down community development models that are geared toward goal-oriented outcomes to one that recognizes the need for cultivating new dynamic, bottom-up institutional models that embody resilience principles and address vulnerabilities at multiple scales.

In addition to programmatic initiatives, Ecotrust works to deploy creative financing through our working endowment (the Natural Capital Fund) and other sources of catalytic capital (such as New Markets Tax Credits) to invest in early-stage innovations that are building resilience in our urban and rural environments. For example, we made an early investment in Seattle’s new Bullitt Center, which aspires to be the world’s first commercial “living building.”

Another example is our work on FoodHub, an online marketplace for connecting wholesale producers and buyers of local food. It is a critical piece in the puzzle of imagining regional food systems, helping create new value chains by facilitating the connections between local growers and large buyers such as schools and hospitals, and laying the groundwork for the needed aggregation and distribution infrastructure.  

 

Please describe one key principle for building resilient communities.  

One of the core design principles we recognize for building resilient communities is the cultivation of rich and highly networked relationships. Rich and diverse relationships allow for the development of social capital, local and regional self-reliance, and robust feedback loops that allow for learning and adaptation. We start by asking how these relationships might better support the viability of local and regional economies; how they can more openly and broadly share information? We believe that building robust networks for learning, with rich feedback loops will allow us to respond and innovate more quickly in the face of increasing challenges and change.

 A couple of years ago we commissioned an artist to illustrate what we are after, and literally paint a picture of the resilient economies towards which we are working. 

Ecotrust 

Detroit resilience maven Shel Kimen will come to 'The City Resilient'

Like all PopTech audiences, the crowd attending the upcoming event, "The City Resilient," will be filled with people of extraordinary talent and knowledge. As examples, PopTech asked a handful of these thought leaders to answer three questions about their work and their views on community resilience. Here is Shel Kimen, Founder and CEO, Detroit Collision Works.

 

Please briefly describe your work and your typical working day.

I wish I had a typical day every now and again! Because I am a start-up social enterprise with a working prototype, my time is split in three core areas: 1) Community outreach: meeting people in the city that have aligned programs or could somehow benefit from what we are creating, 2) Start-up operations, which is everything from finalizing our land sale and plan for community financing, to keeping people up to date on progress and architecture/design, 3) Operating the prototype, which means keeping office hours at our demo unit, coordinating special events designed to bring diverse people together, having one-on-one or small group conversations/story sessions with 20 or more people a week, as well as construction of the second unit which is about to start next week! It's more than I ever thought I was capable of and extremely rewarding.

Shel Kimen

 

How does your work relate to efforts to build resilient communities?

Resilient Communities need intentional and dedicated spaces for sharing, empathy-building, and co-creating our new futures.

The space I am creating, a boutique hotel and community space designed to connect people through storytelling, is made to do just that. It's a platform for *all* the voices in Detroit, an opportunity to connect some dots, integrate travelers with ideas and valuable experiences into our culture, and spend some worthwhile time reflecting on where we are now and where we want to go — together. Our past stories hold valuable lessons for our futures.

 

Please describe one key principle for building resilient communities.

I'm hanging my hat on empathy. When you hear someone's story you see the world through their eyes. When you can feel a little of their pain, joy, love and fear, you are more inclined to reach out, lend a hand, and trust begins working its magic. You also learn stuff! Communities get strong because empathy helps them understand the inter-relationship of all the people within it and value the contribution each brings. Empathy breeds an extraordinary capacity to weather hardship of which we in Detroit have had plenty (!) and also weather the growing pains of success, which we are about to face head-on (gentrification, culture clashes, and conflicts of vision).

Photo by Michael LaCombe

FEMA's Chief Innovation Advisor, Desiree Matel-Anderson, is coming to 'The City Resilient'

Like all PopTech audiences, the crowd attending the upcoming event, "The City Resilient," will be filled with people of extraordinary talent and knowledge. As examples, PopTech asked a handful of these thought leaders to answer three questions about their work and their views on community resilience. Here is Desiree Matel-Anderson, Chief Innovation Advisor, FEMA.


Please briefly describe your work and your typical working day.

My job is to cultivate a culture of innovation in disaster response and recovery nationwide with disaster survivors and communities.

I do not have a typical day! Each day is unique, creative and full of fantastic innovative processes, thinking/ideas, systems and prototypes waiting to be cultivated and catalyzed to assist disaster survivors in response and recovery.

FEMA

How does your work relate to efforts to build resilient communities?

My work is intrinsically tied to building resilient communities — innovation is tied to working with the whole community; including but not limited to disaster survivors, nonprofits, for-profits, other government agencies and communities to bring the most forward-leaning and progressive thought to the forefront.

By bringing forward-leaning and progressive thought to the forefront and cultivating a culture of innovation, communities are involved in creating, building, growing and refining innovations within their communities which they can provide to become more resilient.

 

Please describe one key principle for building resilient communities.

One key principle for building resilient communities is incorporating the whole community, thus involving diverse schools of thought to work together to solve the challenges a community is encountering in the face of disaster response and recovery.

Jack Campbell, a disaster risk expert, in the audience at 'The City Resilient'

Like all PopTech audiences, the crowd attending the upcoming event, "The City Resilient," will be filled with people of extraordinary talent and knowledge. As examples, PopTech asked a handful of these thought leaders to answer three questions about their work and their views on community resilience. Here is Jack Campbell, Disaster Risk Management Specialist, World Bank.

 

Please briefly describe your work and your typical working day.

I'm what's known as a Disaster Risk Management Specialist, working at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. I work as part of a community of more than 100 people here who focus exclusively on harnessing the resilience-building potential of the huge projects that the institution delivers in roads, bridges, cities and rural communities around the world.

This is a diverse and relatively young field, and our focus is as broad as the concept of resilience suggests. Projects we work on may look at conducting project risk assessments to make sure disaster risks are understood, or improving early warning systems, or increasing coverage of insurance programs for vulnerable farmers. My job involves managing a portfolio of small-grants projects in South Asia, with a particular focus on urban resilience. My working day usually kicks off with a few Skype calls with staff based in South Asia, before they go to bed. It continues with any number of meetings and video conferences to coordinate with partners, come up with plans and monitor the program.

Jack Campbell

How does your work relate to efforts to build resilient communities?

The success of my work is directly judged by the extent to which we are able to help countries successfully manage disaster risks, and thus contribute to resilience. Making this tangible and quantifiable remains a challenge, and one I hope to be able to discuss with fellow participants next week.

 

Please describe one key principle for building resilient communities.  

Resilience comes from within the human spirit, but needs the support of visionary policies and plans by leaders to flourish.

Look for clean energy innovator Erik Birkerts at 'The City Resilient'

Like all PopTech audiences, the crowd attending the upcoming event, "The City Resilient," will be filled with people of extraordinary talent and knowledge. As examples, PopTech asked a handful of these thought leaders to answer three questions about their work and their views on community resilience. Here is Erik Birkerts, Executive Vice President, Clean Energy Trust. 


Please briefly describe your work and your typical working day.

Clean Energy Trust works to accelerate the pace of innovation and commercialization of clean energy and water technologies in the Midwest. In a typical day we may spend a portion of our time working with researchers at Argonne National Lab, scientists at the region's leading universities, or with entrepreneurs in their proverbial garages. A typical day may also find us working with policymakers and legislators, helping to create a policy and regulatory environment that is conducive to clean energy deployment and adoption. And, when the opportunity presents itself, we may conclude our day by sharing a drink with various constituents as part of our effort to build a stronger community and ecosystem through relationships.    

Clean Energy Trust
 

How does your work relate to efforts to build resilient communities?

Our work in helping entrepreneurs become successful not only creates economic opportunity and jobs but it also creates a commercialization path for groundbreaking innovations that may help solve some of our most intractable environmental and climate challenges.

 

Please describe one key principle for building resilient communities.

Communities and people need to feel confident that the future will be good; confident that there will be economic opportunities to earn livelihoods and to provide for families; and confident that the planet and the environment will be safe, healthy and able to sustain future generations.

Personal resilience expert Pat Christen will be at 'The City Resilient'

Like all PopTech audiences, the crowd attending the upcoming event, "The City Resilient," will be filled with people of extraordinary talent and knowledge. As examples, PopTech asked a handful of these thought leaders to answer three questions about their work and their views on community resilience. Here is Pat Christen, Hopelab President & CEO.


Please briefly describe your work and your typical working day.

My work involves curation, synthesis, connection and cultivation of shared vision. I oversee the work at HopeLab, working with a gifted team of colleagues and an inspiring board of directors. We apply scientific research and iterative product design to create tools that unlock human resilience to improve health and well-being. I am an early riser and like to read for 30 minutes or so to start my day. (At the moment, I’m reading "Nine Lives," by Dan Baum. Many incredible lessons in resilience.) The bulk of my working hours are spent in conversation with colleagues, thought leaders and practitioners who can inform and improve our thinking on human resilience and its “active ingredients” — a sense of purpose, a sense of connection and a meaningful sense of control. This puts me in contact with an eclectic and fascinating group of people, including Andrew Zolli, Tenzin Priyadarshi, Pierre and Pam Omidyar, Arianna Huffington, Soren Gordhamer, Joan Halifax, and Chris Anderson, in addition to colleagues like Drs. Steve Cole, Janxin Leu and Jana Haritatos. Really, I can’t believe I get paid to spend time with folks like this — it's a privilege to learn from such exceptional people deeply committed to leading high-integrity, high-impact lives.

Pat Christen

How does your work relate to efforts to build resilient communities?

Our work at HopeLab focuses on individual human resilience and, by extension, resilience in communities and the systems humans create. We believe resilience — the ability to bounce back from adversity — is an innate human characteristic. Creating tools to help people tap into their natural resilience has the potential to transform psychological well-being and biological health. Based on insights from science, we believe there are three key substrates, or conditions, that activate human resilience: having a sense of purpose, having a sense of connection and having a meaningful sense of control. We are collaborating with researchers, technologists and product design partners to create tools that foster these experiences and to evaluate their impact on health. As examples, HopeLab's Re-Mission video games and our Zamzee product apply these concepts to help young people fight cancer and to motivate physical activity as a way to improve health.

More personally, I see the power of these concepts in my everyday life as a mom to four resilient kids. Purpose, connection, control — harnessing the power of these experiences — is an opportunity for us all to live happier, healthier, more purposeful lives.

My HopeLab colleagues and I welcome conversations with others interested in the concept of resilience. You can connect with us at ResilienceTech.org or reach out to me directly. Ideas welcome!

 

Please describe one key principle for building resilient communities.

Resilience is an innate human characteristic; it's up to us to find ways to tap this natural resource to support individuals and communities facing adversity. Delivering experiences that amplify purpose, connection, and control — the substrates to resilience — can catalyze healthier responses to adversity. Paying attention to these concepts also can help us understand how resilience is undermined, and why individuals or communities appear fragile or brittle in the face of adversity.

Charles E. Allen III brings Katrina lessons to 'The City Resilient'

Like all PopTech audiences, the crowd attending the upcoming event, "The City Resilient," will be filled with people of extraordinary talent and knowledge. As examples, PopTech asked a handful of these thought leaders to answer three questions about their work and their views on community resilience. Here is Charles E. Allen III, Advisor & Director, City of New Orleans Coastal and Environmental Affairs

 

Please briefly describe your work and your typical working day.

I serve as advisor to Mayor Mitch Landrieu on coastal and environmental affairs. I also direct that same office. A typical work day involves interacting with various colleagues and associates to advance our city and state’s efforts to improve coastal and urban wetland restoration efforts. So, in that regard, I interact with counterparts of mine in our state government, representatives from various environmental NGOs and members of our state’s congressional delegation from time to time. All this is done with the ultimate purpose of advising our Mayor and administration on coastal and environmental issues. I also work within and outside of our city’s government with partners and others to help our city continue to make progressive strides toward being an energy efficient and long-term resilient community.

new orleans

How does your work relate to efforts to build resilient communities?

My work touches on coastal/urban wetland restoration, energy efficient projects and urban water management. It all comes together to help further chart a “path of resilience” going forward for New Orleans. My work involves me working with various other city and municipal agencies to ensure that resilience and long-term environmental sustainability undergirds as much of our work as possible for present and future generations.


Please describe one key principle for building resilient communities.

An important key principle for building resilient communities is to ensure that you tap the resilience and energy that already resides within neighborhoods in cities. One of the very important lesson we learned after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans was that a great deal of resilient wisdom already existed in our various neighborhoods, and that wisdom is what really helped to drive the recovery of our community.

New Orleans photo by SteveSchaaf.

In the audience at 'The City Resilient:' Deb Markowitz

Like all PopTech audiences, the crowd attending the upcoming event, "The City Resilient," will be filled with people of extraordinary talent and knowledge. As examples, PopTech asked a handful of these thought leaders to answer three questions about their work and their views on community resilience. Here is Deb Markowitz, Secretary, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

 

Please briefly describe your work and your typical working day.  

I am the CEO of a large organization that operates all across the state of Vermont that is charged with protecting Vermont’s environment and enhancing Vermonter’s access to the outdoors.

We have three departments. The Department of Environmental Conservation runs our regulatory and permit programs that are designed to protect air quality, ensure clean water, oversee the state’s dams, manage Vermonters' solid waste and prevent and respond to hazardous waste spills. Through our Department of Fish and Wildlife we manage game and nongame species, focus on aquatic and terrestrial habitat management and protection, and encourage wildlife-based outdoor recreation opportunities. Through our Department of Forest Parks and Recreation we manage 51 state parks and hundreds of thousands of acres of state forest and we engage in important land conservation projects.

Deb MarkowitzAs Secretary, I spend a lot of my time focused on climate change mitigation and climate resilience. Through the governor’s Climate Cabinet (which I chair) we are addressing Vermont’s contribution to greenhouse gases by implementing investments and policies designed to move Vermont toward our state goal of reaching 90 percent renewables by 2050. We are leading a statewide discussion about  the need for climate resilient strategies related to floods, ice storms and other climate-related disasters, and the vital role of our natural infrastructure (un-fragmented forests, flood plains, wetland, etc.) And, in partnership with our land conservation nonprofits we have begun an initiative to focus our land conservation investments on projects that will strengthen resilience to climate change.

 

How does your work relate to efforts to build resilient communities?

Climate change adaptation actions are adjustments in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic effects that moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities. Particularly in a rural state like Vermont, the foundation of resilient communities is our natural infrastructure. It is therefore not surprising that many of the actions needed to build resilient communities are the same actions needed and already initiated to support the resilience of our ecosystems and to reduce various types of pollution in Vermont’s watersheds. For example, when we build bridges and culverts to withstand future flood events, it provides aquatic species passage and prevents streambed and bank erosion. When we conserve wetlands it protects water quality and riparian habitat, it also protects upstream communities from flooding by serving as a catch basin during extreme weather events. In addition to working to properly design our infrastructure so we are prepared for future extreme weather events, we are engaged in a robust statewide conversation about how to encourage infill growth in our built communities (which are almost all along our river corridors) while preserving the open spaces so that we can, where it is still possible, benefit from our natural infrastructure by reconnecting our rivers to their flood plains.  

 

Please describe one key principle for building resilient communities.

Recognize the importance of the interconnected network of natural and undeveloped areas needed to provide a wide array of environmental, health and economic benefits. Not surprisingly, particularly in our urban areas, our natural infrastructure has been declining, both in quality and in quantity. Sprawl and poorly planned communities are at fault. As we rethink how we live on the land in light of the uncertainties of climate change, we need to be more strategic and intentional, using the best scientific information available to support long-term sustainability.


 
 

 


Grassroots/Government guru John Crowley to attend 'The City Resilient'

Like all PopTech audiences, the crowd attending the upcoming event, "The City Resilient," will be filled with people of extraordinary talent and knowledge. As examples, PopTech asked a handful of these thought leaders to answer three questions about their work and their views on community resilience. Here is John Crowley, Lead, Open Data for Resilience Partnerships at the World Bank/GFDRR.

Please briefly describe your work and your typical working day.

I connect grassroots and government via open data, open standards, and open technology. As curator of the TIDES "Camp Roberts" humanitarian technology accelerator for the US government and consultant to the World Bank's Open Data for Resilience Initiative, I am probably one of the few people who jump between each part of the disaster risk management cycle every day.

John Crowley

In the morning, I might interview a colleague in Kathmandu about efforts to teach the communities there how to map their city in OpenStreetMap so that they can catalogue their seismic risks. I might follow that with a conference call between a risk modeler and government donor about how to improve the collection of OpenStreetMap data to better calculate seismic damage and how to build these practices into global data standards.

In the afternoon, I might hold a conference call between FEMA, FEMACorps, and several companies about how to design a mash-up experiment at Camp Roberts where we accelerate damage assessment after an earthquake. One idea under review today fuses two ideas: how to use an unmanned aerial vehicle to image a neighborhood and provide real-time imagery to field teams; and how to bounce radio signals off the UAV to connect the field team's land-mobile radios with crisis mappers via Skype and upload field data collected back to the crisis mappers in near real-time.

In the evening, I'm probably in a coffee shop writing a policy memo about a way that the U.S. government could allow the fusion of mapping data from FEMA and crisis mappers into analytical products that can be used to accelerate the decisions about individualized assistance to families whose houses have been damaged (and figuring out how to get permission for the UAV to fly and/or make all the data open!). Or I might be writing a paper on the legal and policy challenges of connecting grassroots and government.

 

How does your work relate to efforts to build resilient communities?

Communities are becoming ever more interconnected. Mutual aid used to mean either an agreement to offer help across adjacent communities or a bilateral agreement for humanitarian aid between nation states. Today, it means were are a deeply intermingled global community, where citizens can help other citizens from across the planet using open platforms and open data.

I get to work on the problems that emerge when we move from old conceptions of mutual aid based mostly on sovereignties helping sovereignties to a set of decentralized informal networks working around and within these more formal networks. I get to work in partnerships to create mashups of organizations that solve big problems and then find ways to remove policy obstacles and let these open partnerships do their work. Put in systems thinking language, I reinforce the positive feedback loops of collaborative, creative do-ers and slow the negative feedback loop of those who create "policy drag."

 

Please describe one key principle for building resilient communities.

Listen. Too many efforts to build resilient communities start from an idea born in the comfort of a developed country which we then try to evangelize in a resource-scarce developing nation. Start from where people are. Listen to their problems. Mobilize tools and resources to build their solution in which they are full co-designers, while educating them about practices that would make their ideas better. We build resilient communities when the communities own their solutions and therefore already know how to maintain them. As a classically-trained cellist, I have to turn to the metaphor of being a chamber musician. You have to create a safe space where an innovative approach can arise from the friction between several people's ideas into a unique and creative synthesis. In the process, you'll each be pushed beyond your comfort zone into places where you will do things you did not realize were inside you.

Photo via John Crowley