Community Resilience: Communicating “Climate-Resilience” To Your Local Government Officials

After noticing, recently, that several local political candidates and some fellow citizens don’t seem to have much awareness about climate-resilience, I wondered if the same might be the case in many other places. So I decided to try to boost awareness in my community by writing up a summary of basic examples of how a local government could boost its climate-resilience while also enhancing its beauty, improving its economic wellbeing, and saving money and other resources.

If you find any of this helpful, you are welcome to use any or all of it as talking-points in your discussions or emails with your local government officials, neighborhood association, newspapers, and other community influencers.

This is a rough work-in-progress; I’ll be adding to it.

• Resilience, to me, encompasses both mitigation and adaptation. Those two things can sometimes overlap, blend. For example, a healthy tree canopy helps mitigate heat extremes and drought-flood extremes. It can also help a community adapt better to whatever climate-change effects do hit. For example, switching from buzzcut turfgrass to meadows as a dominant landscaping theme. (Many wild plants are edible and medicinal.)

• I find it useful to approach climate-resilience through a permaculture-design lens (as I do so many other topics). Permaculture sets forth the following six general categories of human needs: Food, Water, Shelter, Transportation, Energy, Community. (But a local government, for example, might find it useful to break it down by department: Public Works, Parks & Recreation, Building, Planning, Health, Social Services, and so on.)

Following are a couple of simple examples of resilience in each category.

FOOD: Start a farmers market. Have a city-sponsored community garden, and/or support grassroots organizations in setting one up. Loosen or remove restrictions banning backyard chickens, food-gardening in residential yards, etc. Highlight local farmers on your city social-media pages, community newsletter. Organize food festivals around your most popular local produce. Strawberry Festival, Mullet Run, etc. Eliminate “food deserts” by making sure residents of all neighborhoods have access to fresh wholesome food even if they don’t drive or have cars. Invite local elders, indigenous people, immigrant communities to share their food-growing expertise and to lead local food-resilience initiatives; compensate them generously and celebrate them lavishly as treasures of the community.

WATER: Shift landscaping emphasis from neatness/turfgrass to trees, native plants, shade, heat mitigation. Provide city landscaping employees with basic training in permaculture, native landscaping, tree care, green infrastructure. Have at least one city building as a demo site for collecting rainwater and using it onsite. Sponsor workshops on rainwater collection, rain gardens. Buy rainbarrels in large quantity to sell to residents at low price (or even give to residents). Read the Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins; consider a pilot program of humanure toilets in selected areas (such as any sites now served by portajohnsi or chemical toilets). Mitigating heat and drought, repairing the water cycle, and radically conserving what water your community does have is of paramount importance; a community without water will not remain a community for long.

SHELTER: Aim to add single-room-occupancy complexes, mobile-home parks, tiny-house villages, micro apartments, accessory dwelling units, and “missing middle” housing to your menu of housing options. Look into any codes, zoning, or other restrictions that impede the construction of a full range of housing options, or that make it difficult to repurpose historic buildings or other existing buildings for housing. Consider instituting a vacancy tax on buy-and-hold investors who keep buildings empty for years, or who keep parcels of urban land empty rather than put them into productive use.

TRANSPORTATION: Eliminate car-dependent residential developments, shopping areas, public buildings, etc., by making sure all major routes have bicycle/walking paths and are served by public transport. Support bus and rail transit as an essential item; don’t take pushback from car elitists. Stop allowing sprawl development, and at least push developers outside the city core to include basic commercial amenities (grocery store, drugstore, etc.) within their developments. Aim to make sure all streets and sidewalks are shaded. Offer bicycle-safety classes.

ENERGY: Back off on frequency of grass mowing and let wildflowers emerge; keep tree-trimming to absolute minimum necessary. Move the needle on our USAmerican obsession with tidying the great outdoors; consider limiting or greatly curtailing pressure-washing, leaf-blowing, and other fuel-intensive operations by city crews. Cease use of herbicides and pesticides; allow natural predators to reemerge and they will keep insect populations in balance. Conduct public meetings by Zoom (or at least offer it as an option) to encourage people to avoid unnecessary gasoline consumption. Offer homeowners and landlords rebates or other incentives for adding insulation or other energy retrofits to their buildings. Add solar panels as shade over large parking lots such as airport parking lots. (These could also serve as electric-vehicle-charging stations.)

COMMUNITY: Host community game nights, concerts, karaoke nights, line-dancing at parks in residential neighborhoods. (The focus is on bringing residents together, as opposed to attracting tourists.) Set up community donation boxes for toys, canned goods. Put Little Free Libraries outside of city government buildings, community centers, and on street corners around town. Allow residents to set up a swap meet or rummage sale in a large municipal parking lot that’s vacant at a certain time or day of the week. Promote intellectual development, physical fitness, and community togetherness via fun, challenging programs. Mayor’s Reading Challenge, Mayor’s Fitness Challenge, etc.

Note: An action such as “community composting” or “supporting farmers’ markets” can deliver resilience benefits in multiple categories, including food, transportation, energy, community, and even shelter (by providing job opportunities that can help people secure a roof over their heads). Conducting meetings by Zoom offers benefits in both the energy and transportation categories. Encouraging bicycling and walking not only helps a community conserve energy and be more transportation-resilient, but also helps build community because people are able to see each other out and about rather than obscured behind tinted car windows. And there’s a lot of overlap between food- and water-resilience.

What I’ve written is really just a tiny sampling of ways that a city or other local government can boost its climate-resilience while also fostering economic health and social wellbeing. This post doubles as a grab-bag of talking points to help citizens and activists let public officials know the breadth of what climate-resilience entails. I’m sure you can think of many more! Please drop me a line if you’d like me to add something.

PS. Someone in the Deep Adaptation group just mentioned “Climate Emergency Centers” and “Climate Resilience Hubs” as a way of helping people and communities get through what is expected in some places to be a very hard winter, possibly accompanied by fuel shortages. I’m not familiar with CECs or CRHs, though I can imagine what sorts of services and facilities they might offer. Someone in the group posted this link to a CEC in the UK; I’ll be visiting this link later to read up.