Yesenia Perez

Program Manager of Climate Equity

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It’s tough to have a conversation about climate change that doesn’t begin with The Bad–recording breaking heat waves, wildfires, floods and severe weather events. These threats are real, and against a backdrop of existing inequity, we know climate change hits communities of color and low-income communities first and worst. But we have to continue to move the conversation forward. We need to talk about The Good.

The Good lies in innovative community-based solutions that go beyond simply rebuilding after a climate disaster strikes and focus on what these neighborhoods need to thrive in the long run. Communities and local government have the opportunity to address long standing inequities by investing in climate solutions that build lasting resilience in communities that, for decades, have been left behind.

Time and time again, we see government entities take only a reactive approach, providing temporary aid to communities burdened by climate disasters. It’s critical to shift the conversation from a disaster response–how we respond to The Bad–to a people-centered approach that builds lasting community resilience–how we proactively build The Good.

Community resilience is “the ability of communities to withstand, recover and learn from past disasters to strengthen future response and recovery efforts. Community resilience includes social and economic equity, health and social connectedness among other factors.”

Social connectedness increases community resilience in the face of a climate emergency. A key takeaway from a study on extreme weather and social connection in two of Boston’s most disinvested and vulnerable neighborhoods found that investing in social infrastructure can better prepare communities for climate disasters and other emergency events. Social connectedness was a powerful indicator for overall well-being and a force for climate resilience. Existing social infrastructure like community spaces and libraries allow people to better support one another, share information, navigate resources, and build trust. Community resilience hubs, for example, can help forge social connectedness which can improve local resilience in the face of increasing climate disasters.

What is a Community Resilience Hub?

A powerful example of building The Good are community resilience hubs. Resilience hubs are trusted, locally managed neighborhood centers that serve communities year-round and provide unique programs designed to fit the physical and social needs of neighborhoods. A hub can provide a range of programs such as multilingual services, wellness or community college classes and host community events.The takeaway here is that programs should look different from hub to hub because the needs, culture and values of communities are different. In order to build trust and invest in social resilience the physical space of a hub needs to be somewhere where people want and choose to spend their time.

During climate emergencies, resilience hubs also provide a range of services such as clean energy powered electricity with battery storage or a community space to obtain information and deliver other critical supplies. The Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) defines resilience hubs as “community-serving facilities augmented to support residents, coordinate communication, distribute resources, and reduce carbon pollution while enhancing quality of life.” USDN has identified five Foundational Areas that build community resilience from a holistic approach. These areas include:

  1. Services and programs
  2. Communications
  3. Building and landscape
  4. Power
  5. Facility operations

Resilience hubs are not intended to replace emergency centers. Instead, they serve as a piece of a larger climate resilient ecosystem that can address gaps in emergency management and strengthen community preparedness. For some neighborhoods, community resilience hubs are trusted community spaces that may already exist such as multi-family housing, community centers, or even public libraries. In Washington, D.C., one project has combined a resiliency room in an affordable housing project that will be able to provide up to three days of renewable power during severe weather or other disruptions. For one community in Los Angeles, their resilience center is a “living, breathing building used seven days a week.” The key distinction between community resilience hubs and other emergency shelters is they are not solely emergency shelters–they are also everyday community centers

Building resilience requires an upfront investment in spaces like community resilience hubs that promote a community’s well being before people have to evacuate their homes or before people need resources. They should be spaces where people want and choose to spend their time because they offer resources and programs informed by the community that improve the community’s overall well being. This, in turn, allows people to more aptly meet challenges when they do arise. Resilience is built before disaster, not born out of it.

One model of a community resilience center where community wellness and connection are deeply ingrained is Greenlining the Block partner Eastside Community Network. They run the Stoudamire Wellness Center in Detroit. The Wellness Center is a community hub that addresses needs such as concentrated poverty, disconnection from formal healthcare, and fragmented social networks and isolation in the local neighborhood by offering community programs. Stoudamire offers classes and activities year around across generations so community members can focus on their wellness, learn new skills and simply, connect with one another.

Achieving Resilience Through Equitable Mobility and Transportation Planning

In addition to wellness and social connection, the ability to move from place to place, also known as mobility, is a core component of climate resilience. Decades of racist transportation policies have resulted in communities of color facing far higher rates of pollution and with fewer access to the clean mobility options of wealthier communities. The consequences of these disinvestment are vulnerable transportation infrastructure, insufficient evacuation planning, and disaster recovery strategies that don’t adequately address the mobility needs of communities of color. Equity and resilience must be built into intersectional funding and climate solutions. Resilience hubs can address these gaps by blending mobility, community resilience, emergency management, and climate mitigation resources. Blending a mobility approach in the planning and implementation of resilience hubs is crucial to ensuring that communities can equitably access the variety of benefits such as workforce development programs, after school programs and wellness programs.

It is also critical to consider how communities will access these spaces.  A study of resilience hubs and its associated transportation needs found that transportation is currently not integrated in hub placement, design or planning. For these hubs to have their intended impact, here are several recommendations to ensure mobility and transportation is integrated into resilience hubs day-to-day and during climate emergencies:

  • Engage communities in the planning and implementation process of resilience hubs to better understand their mobility needs. 
  • Centrally locate the placement of a resilience hub center so that it is within walking distance and accessible to people from existing public transportation routes and near major roads. This should be at familiar locations such as schools, libraries, affordable housing complexes, or other community gathering spaces. 
  • Consider strategies that provide reliable transportation to and from the hubs for people during times of emergency to places such as hospitals.
  • Integrate resilience hubs into local emergency plans and evacuation routes. 
  • Create a group of organized volunteers that provide transportation to people without access to personal vehicles during emergency evacuations. 
  • Scale the use of electric buses to serve as a mobile emergency backup power for community hubs, mobile wifi hotspots, evacuation vehicles, and delivering essentials. 
  • Locate resilience hubs with nearby existing mobility hubs and consider ways to integrate clean mobility options such as electric carsharing and bikesharing as part of the hub’s program design.

For further strategies on how to design a resilience hub through a mobility centered approach we can also look to existing mobility hubs for solutions, like those developed by another Greenlining the Block partner Equiticity.

Equiticity is developing The Go Hub: A Community Mobility Center in North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago. The Go Hub is designed to improve physical access to both public transit infrastructure and provide more mobility options for Black and Brown low-and moderate income residents by providing a loaner mobility fleet of electric bikes, shared vehicles, and transportation information. In addition to the physical connectedness this community mobility justice model provides, The Go Hub is also a community center where neighborhood residents can spend time enjoying the culturally designed space.

Bringing Resilience Hubs to Communities

As the need to build community resilience grows, there is more and more funding opportunities at the federal and state levels for resilience hubs.

Federal Funding Opportunities:

California Funding Opportunities

This funding is an opportunity for communities to be more deeply involved in choosing and designing solutions and programs that meet their needs.

Investing in social infrastructure and building trust with communities must be embedded in climate solutions. And while resilience centers can and should look different to meet each communities specific needs, ensuring equitable physical and cultural access to them must be a throughline. Programs that scale community climate solutions, clean energy, mobility and disaster preparedness as well as invest in the social fabric and well being of a community are the roadmap to a more resilient future.

Photo Credit: Eastside Community Network

Yesenia Perez

Program Manager of Climate Equity

Read Bio