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Five Years Later: Are We Learning from the Storm? The Importance of Institutional Learning and Community-Centric Approaches to Building Local Resilience

Prabhakaran, Krithika

Climate change has posed tremendous threats to nations worldwide, and the impacts have been widely felt across the United States. In recent years, natural disasters have affected some of our country's most densely populated areas, leaving coastal areas vulnerable, many communities and businesses at-risk, and thousands struggling even today (Anderson, 2016). In fact, evidence shows that "beyond tearing apart physical infrastructure and claiming lives, natural disasters damage social bonds and community networks, debilitating communities even after infrastructure is rebuilt" (Landau, 2017). With the prevalence and frequency of natural disasters steadily increasing, the question of how to best build community resilience in a way that not only mitigates hazards, but also significantly reduces vulnerabilities and social impact is more crucial than before.
Because the topic of disaster resiliency is fairly young and has only recently become an organizing principle of disaster policy and practice, the evidence base regarding best practices for implementing resilience at the local level is still emerging. According to Cutter and Emrich, less attention has also been attributed to scholarly analyses of policy learning and change given that recovery is still the least understood (and least studied) part of the emergency management cycle (Cutter & Emrich, 2015). However, research shows that recovery is most difficult in areas where "people do not mobilize the internal and external resources available to address the vulnerabilities and issues they face" (Dieye, 2012). Yet, according to Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative, building community resilience in the face of disaster risk can also have multiple benefits for a community even in the absence of a disaster, helping resolve "mundane challenges" as well (NAP, 2012). In such cases, community-based organizations can be an important contribution to cultivating resilient efforts.
In the case of Hurricane Sandy, critical lessons demonstrate that underlying issues of lack of trust and the absence of sustainable engagement with community-based organizations create significant disparities in resilient outcomes following emergencies and disasters (Plough, 2013). Recognizing this, over the past five years since Hurricane Sandy, New York City policymakers, researchers, and planners have been exploring ways in which top-down resiliency policy along with innovative community-driven projects can be integrated to foster social bonds, community networks, and local resilience within struggling communities. This study aims to narrate how City and local agencies have restructured their priorities to focus on resilience since Sandy, and understand the importance of community-based organizations and community-centric approaches in facilitating recovery efforts and strengthening local communities for long-term sustainability.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Urban Planning
Thesis Advisors
Tajbakhsh, Kian Y.
Degree
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
June 25, 2017