Resilience Against What?: How Leading U.S. Municipalities Are Understanding and Acting on Resilience

The purpose of this study commissioned by the Post Carbon Institute, was to explore how cities in the U.S. that are already leading the way on sustainability are understanding and applying the concept of resilience in their policies and planning. The survey found that leading U.S. municipalities already have a much more sophisticated understanding of climate resilience involving economic, energy, and social challenges than previously believed - and that they are putting it into action through policies, regulations, and programs. The results of this study will be used to facilitate further conversations about community resilience with municipalities, advocacy organizations, and funders, and to determine what tools and resources would be of best use to municipalities seeking to build community resilience.

Senior staff at fourteen selected municipalities of various regions and sizes were surveyed on their communities’ perceived risks and vulnerabilities, and how these were being addressed.

Five major conclusions were derived from the responses:

(1) While “resilience” is interpreted many ways, it is largely understood by these sustainability leaders to have a scope greater than mere disaster preparedness.

(2) Resilience-building is already regarded as an important part of these communities’ ability to deliver services, although respondents ascribed different specific activities to it.

(3) Lack of time and lack of resources are seen as the biggest barriers to resilience-building actions.

(4) Citizen pressure is a major influence on resilience-building actions.

(5) Neither national nor local regulations are seen as significantly hindering community resilience-building actions.

Forty communities across the U.S. were considered to receive the survey, with the goal of providing a cross section of communities and drivers. Of those 40 communities, 25 were selected based on criteria that included: recognition as a leader in sustainability, including in planning, innovation, energy, climate, and the “green economy”; population and geography (for diversity); and a history of experiencing at least one significant natural or manmade disasters as listed in the FEMA database. Not all communities fulfilled all criteria. A final list of 25 invited communities represented small, medium, and large metropolitan areas across the U.S., in all geographic regions. Of these, 14 completed the survey in time to be included in the analysis discussed in this report. Because some respondents asked for the responses to remain anonymous, the 14 represented communities are not specifically identified - but the 25 cities originally selected are listed in the report.  

The survey methodology, questions, and an analysis of the responses are described in detail. 


Publication Date: October 16, 2013

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