Building Community Resilience in Maricopa County, Arizona

In Maricopa County, Arizona - Greater Phoenix area - the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC) has supported a multi-stakeholder project to build community engagement, social cohesion, and climate resilience. In partnership with Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, a place-based foundation focused on strengthening Maricopa County, ISC has completed this assessment of community resilience by researching local Social, Economic, and Environmental resilience. In this report, ISC offers a strategic framework to build community resilience in Maricopa, and to help guide the evolution of the Trust’s programming and grant-making in 2016 and beyond. The ISC process, assessment and results can be useful outside of Maricopa for local decision-makers determining how to integrate community resilience into planning and policy efforts.

The Maricopa resilience assessment is based on interviews with with local government and academia who live within the region and considered experts in their field. Relevant statistics identified by the ISC team augment their views in these summaries of the county’s economic, social and environmental resilience.

Maricopa County is in the Sonoran Desert, which is among the hottest and driest places in the United States. Cities in the region have long ranked at the top of hottest cities in the country - where daytime highs can reach 120°F in summer. Interviews found that most locals consider extreme heat to be the principal climatic challenge to the county in the immediate future. Respondents noted several ways in which increasing temperatures are likely to affect the region, including public health risks to particularly vulnerable populations – children, older adults, the homeless, and those who labor outdoors; along with increased pressure on energy use and water use, increasing household costs and challenging utility providers to meet demands.

Concerning Environmental and Climatic Resilience, ISC found:

  • a strong tradition of careful water resource management that has served the region well
  • a growing awareness among local government staff on key regional vulnerabilities associated with climate change and an early emergence of strategies designed to address them.
  • evidence that staff were taking actions or seeking resources to address issues ranging from health impacts to children on poor air quality days, to neighborhood scale heat islands in lower income communities. 

The most pressing priorities identified by ISC for community resilience in Maricopa County are:

  • A need to build social capital and cohesion within Valley communities;
  • A need to build non-profit capacity and collaboration; and,
  • Cross-sector coordination of disparate resilience building efforts using a community resilience framework.

ISC believes that the most significant of these challenges - determined to be critical to the success of building resilience in all three domains - economic, social and environmental - is the lack of social cohesion within Greater Phoenix. ISC states that focusing effort to build social capital is the single most important means to advance the efforts of those working to build community resilience in Maricopa County.


Publication Date: October 2016

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  • Assessment

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