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Resilience First Executive Director Robert Hall discusses social capital and its importance to resilience

by Robert Hall, Executive Director Resilience First


For too long, many organisations and indeed governments have viewed resilience in terms of the role a city’s physical infrastructure plays in mitigating or responding to short-term shocks or longer-term stresses.

Yet while the likes of seawalls and firewalls are important, they cannot, of themselves, provide civil protection from a wide variety of modern risks and hazards.

There is also a need to consider and incorporate the human dimension, both as citizens and communities.

Studies carried out after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011 showed that communities with deeper reservoirs of ‘social capital’ had higher survival rates and faster recovery rates.

But what is social capital?

This is the soft skills such as trust, empowerment, culture, engagement, learning, adaptation, neighbourliness and, above all, leadership in dealing with all kinds of dangers.

These are personable and attributional skills. They contrast to the directive, hard skills that accompany structures such as policies, plans and standards.

While we need to instil both types of skills, the more challenging aspect for resilience is the human and communal aspects. Communities are the bedrock of urban resilience; they can provide success or cement failure, no matter how sophisticated a city infrastructure may be.

Changes in the today’s world reinforce the emphasis on soft skills and the role of communities for better resilience:

  *   The growth of robotics and AI points to a changing world of work. Communities will need help to adapt to new skill sets, and not just for those about to join the job market.

  *   The changes to the high street caused by on-line shopping – retail workers make up the bulk of the 50,000 redundancies so far this year – mean that retailers will need new business models to adapt to the communities they serve.

  *   The aging and atomisation of communities will present problems of engagement, access, inclusiveness and flexibility – all of which may need more adaptive and decentralised services.

These mega-trends – to which can be added issues like terrorism and climate change – sit above the routine concerns of local communities.

The daily issues of vandalism, crime and litter are ones that can also undermine local resilience. They cannot be sidelined if broader traction is to be relied on in times of major shocks or severe stresses.

There is common ground and a linkage between the mega- and the routine concerns: stemming from the fact that resilience is about people.

It is about making communities work for the communal good, and engaging with adjacent organisations and neighbours to make those communities stronger.

By resolving local issues for local communities with a set of common guidelines, and thereby bringing people together as a force multiplier, then those same frameworks can be applied to larger problems and larger districts, even cities.

This requires a new social contract that is geared to meet not only the modern trends but also future dangers.

It requires collective, cohesive thinking and action – and leadership – if we are to be more resilient.


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