Resilient Communities are the Foundations of a Resilient America.

Investing wisely in community resilience

To invest:
To devote time, energy, effort or money to a particular undertaking with the expectation of a positive result.

We all know there’s no free lunch; we have to invest in our communities if they are to become more resilient.  But we have to recognize that every investment involves risk; any step forward risks tripping and falling back.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t invest, only that we should invest wisely.  But what does it mean to invest wisely?  What should our “community resilience” investment portfolio look like?
There’s no single right answer to these questions because communities are so very different and face different types of risks. But we can point to a few general principles that can help a community successfully invest in its resilience.

“Know thyself.”  The Socratic dictum may be old-fashioned, but in the community context it rings true.  You have to know your community – warts and all; strengths and weaknesses.  In a crisis, your weaknesses may magnify the dangers; your strengths are what will get you through and allow you to seize any opportunities.  You also have to know the potential crises your community faces – the destruction of disaster, social upheaval, health crises, economic downturns – and, ideally, the opportunities hidden in those crises.  Finally, you have to know what your stake is – what does your community have to invest?  As the definition indicates, the community has time, energy and effort to invest as well as money.  And with this comes the recognition of how much your community can invest, i.e., how much it can afford to lose.

“To thine own self be true.”  Shakespeare may have meant old Polonius’ advice sarcastically, but in investment terms it means – dare to be different.  Being different can be difficult – as social animals we all want to be seen as fitting in.  But community leaders who will direct investments need to use their knowledge of their community to create value in their community.  They have to have the guts to invest in what their knowledge tells them is best for their community, not what’s trendy.  For example, investing in a “renewable energy” (wood-burning, or wind, or solar) power plant may be fashionable, but creating an artificial barrier reef may have more value for a coastal community.

Diversify your investments.  In a community context, that often means investing to enhance strengths as well as shoring up weaknesses.  For example, a community may have excellent emergency plans and a dedicated emergency management agency, but probably should invest in community-wide exercises.  Or, a community that people are attracted to because of its social or cultural life may invest in social events targeted at better integrating newcomers into the community.

And, finally, hedge your investments by spreading the risk, i.e., find partners.  The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey used this strategy to build the new World Trade Center complex, and will use it again to rebuild the Goethals Bridge.  In a sense, New York City is using this approach to fund investments in its transportation system (although it’s not clear how much the City is investing and how much they are just investing federal dollars).

In this changing world, investments in our communities’ resilience – investments that enable our communities to thrive in the face of change – are essential.   That means we have to risk both our human and our financial capital.  But by knowing our communities, daring to be different, diversifying our portfolios and hedging our risks, we can invest wisely.  And realize the return on those investments we all want – a more resilient community.