The severe weather events of the last few years combined with an increasing scientific consensus that extreme weather, sea level rise, and increasing natural resource exploitation are causing global ecosystems to falter have led many communities around the world to initiate planning for disaster mitigation and an evaluation of the steps necessary to protect critical resources, infrastructure and people from harm. A few weeks ago I participated in a tabletop exercise in which government agencies and community stakeholders were given an imaginary budget and a list of pieces of infrastructure (power plants, bridges, roads, wastewater treatment plants) that were potentially at risk at certain levels of sea level rise. Our job was to decide what to protect with the funds we were given. It was a challenging exercise, but it made me think a lot about what resiliency means.
During the breaks in the exercise, like everyone else in the room, I checked my phone. I read my emails and then I began to check the various social media sites I use. Because the internet and social media allow mostly unfettered communication of ideas, information and misinformation to be shared by anyone, individuals are publicizing political ideas, pleas for financial support, and for support of causes large and small to millions everyday. “GOFUNDME” donors support individual entrepreneurs, families that have fallen victim to tragedy, requests for spring break vacation funds, those with certain political and religious beliefs and every other manner of financial request. We are asked to donate $5 to a person we have never met, who lives 10,000 miles away and apparently has a brain tumor. Similarly, animal rescue sites seek foster and adoptive parents for pets across the globe. I saw all of that in a ten-minute break during the meeting. Which made me realize people are more connected than ever before.
But are we really? How many of your neighbors do you know well enough to recognize if their dog is loose on the street? Do you have their phone numbers? Do you know their kids, and the everyday joys and crises of those physically proximate to you?
Communities are not made solely of the infrastructure that provide water, power safety, healthcare and streets. Communities are made of people. Being part of a global community is no proxy for physical interaction with those who live on our street, see the same sunrise and face the same immediate threats when weather is bad. So while we conduct studies to protect from sea level rise, and participate in exercises to determine which bridges to raise, which structures to harden and which roads to protect, let me suggest one more form of action to increase community resilience:
Host a potluck.
Make a flyer. Invite the neighbors you know and the neighbors you don’t know. Post it on doors. Ask them to bring food to share. Invite people to your home, or a local park or neighborhood common area. Any excuse for a party will work: a sporting event to watch, a national holiday, the beginning of summer, back to school, whatever. Have the party, then plan another one.
The point is to build relationships with those who live near you because in times of disaster, large or small, it is those relationships that will aid you and your family most. Resilience is about the ability to handle adversity and come back stronger. Don’t rely on the kindness of strangers when that day comes. Build emotional bridges that you and your neighbors can walk across together when the waters rise.
Leigh Kellett Fletcher has been practicing land use, environmental and real estate law since 1997 and regularly represents clients acquiring, developing and selling real estate in Florida and the U. S. Virgin Islands. She has been involved in the purchase, sale and redevelopment of multi-family residential projects, office, commercial and mixed use properties and has worked with clients to obtain land use entitlements and environmental permits to develop and expand commercial development. She frequently works with clients acquiring environmentally contaminated properties and assists them with obtaining brownfield designations and completing remediation and development of those properties. Read Leigh’s full bio.