Resilient Communities

Description and Timescale: The Resilient, mutual self-help in cities of growing diversity project was funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of the Connected Communities programme. This project ran between 2010-11 and engaged with a host of civil society organisations in the West Midlands.

Project summary: This project stimulated research and promoted debate in relation to community self-reliance, resilience, social and community capital, empowerment and participation. Whilst these issues have been explored individually in an array of disciplinary areas, they have not been the subject of connected consideration. It drew on cross-disciplinary research and research related literature from social policy, planning and urban policy to help map the evolution of thinking around resilient, mutual self-help and participation, both formal and informal, in an era of ‘super-diversity’. It sought to help fill the gaps in our knowledge about the realities of these activities in order to assist in the development of current UK Government policy around localism and the “Big Society”.

 The work was situated within the resilience ‘turn’ in policy and practice connected to emerging concerns with how urban societies deal with shock events through attempts to embed resilience into social, economic and political systems. In this sense resilience, has become an increasingly important metaphor in social sciences and in public policy making where  external ‘threats’ or ‘shocks’ require adaptive and self-reliant communities and place-led responses. Here, drawing on the risk and disaster management literature, we might see social and community resilience as the adaptive potential of individual and communities to emergent environmental and human induced risk. In both the developing and developed world, there has been a significant shift towards unpacking the adaptive capacity of governance institutions and communities and how this might be utilised as part of developing a new ‘urban resilience’. Here community resilience is seen very much as the participation of citizens in the process of making the state more resilient and to help manage threats and ‘conditions of uncertainty’ where shared and coordinated action can reduce collective vulnerability. As such obtaining community resilience is often seen as one of the ‘holy grails’ to obtain for successful recovery, with many arguing that the balance of resiliency policy can be reoriented away from analysis of deterministic legislative and technological processes, and increasingly grounded in the more meaningful experience of the world by citizens where coping strategies and enhanced social networks may be mobilised to reduce the negative impact of an event.

 Most recently, the credit crisis and worldwide recession has promulgated much discussion of how resilience can be built into not only socio-economic systems at a variety of geographical scales, but embedded within matters of public policy where there is a need to respond to major challenges with a long term view. In short, places and communities need to be increasingly resilient – where resilience is centred not upon state institutions but upon citizen and community responses. This, it is intended, will lead to adaptive human behaviour and the development of individual and institutional coping strategies.

Lead partners: This project was led by Lisa Goodson at the University of Birmingham, assisted by Jon Coaffee and Rob Rowlands.

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