Resilient Communities are the Foundations of a Resilient America.

Resilience and history

“As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.” — Edmund Burke

In a recent post, I tried to point out the importance of helping future generations understand the What and the Why of the things we do now.  In this post, I want to look at the larger issue looming behind that note – the importance of history for community resilience.

Resilience requires action.  Coming through a disaster and passively coming back to the same place  – without action – isn’t resilience:  it’s luck.  No, resilience is seeing the future – both its risks and its opportunities – and changing the community’s direction to minimize risk and maximize its chances of seizing opportunity.

And history is the tool we use to recognize risks and opportunities.  History shows us how certain patterns, certain sequences of events, certain coincidences of time and place and circumstances lead inevitably to certain consequences, unless we take action.

History is also the tool that can direct us toward the most effective actions.  What worked in the past? – more importantly, what didn’t work and why? – history can point us to answers that will allow a community’s leadership to make the best use of limited resources.  I’ve talked before about the Conservation of Community Momentum, but momentum isn’t destiny unless we fail to take action to alter our community’s trajectory.  And history can point the way to effective action.

In that sense, the quote from Burke is apt – a community is a partnership among the generations.  We are the legacies of our past; we need to understand why our forebears did what they did in terms of the coincidence of their time, their place, their circumstances.  Because we and our communities are the results of those actions, just as my children and grandson reflect my actions in my time, place and circumstances.  While I owe those who come after me my best attempt at a better world, I also owe them an understanding of the past that formed them – their history.

An important part of the American Dream is to want our children’s lives to be better than ours.  Sadly, that Dream seems to be dimming.  Too many of us have lost sight of how far we’ve come and thus are daunted by the realization of how far we need to go.  Some would take our communities in new directions, heedless of the lessons of history that those paths lead nowhere good.   Resilience requires action, and history is the tool that can help to take the best actions, most likely to improve our resilience.

Another graph

The other week I came upon two interesting sets of data:  one relating to oil spills, the other to hurricanes.  In both case, the data tabulated the number of incidents vs their severity.  I’ve attached plots of both.

Spills

Hurricanes

It is perhaps not surprising that each of these reflects a “power law” relationship:  number of incidents = severity raised to the power “X.”  What I find particularly interesting is that “X” is the same for these two:  -1.5.  While I have seen papers that claim that a power law relationship should exist, I can’t see any reason a priori that the power “X” should be the same for such disparate types of events.