Much of the work in combating rising sea levels and flooding entails building stronger walls and barriers, so Netherland’s approach to water management and flooding by letting the water in at times really caught my attention. It reminded me about the need for creativity and the importance of learning from others. This past winter’s ice storms and the recent high winds and deluge of rain in parts of Vermont on April 15th & 16th, 2014 are reminders of what we should expect, and they reinforce the need for proactive thinking and action to make us “Vermont Strong.” The recognition of changing weather patterns and the anticipation of increasing incidences of extreme weather events was reinforced by the National Climate Assessment report released on May 6th, 2014. There’s an excellent summary of the report in this New York Times article.
As we work within the complex natural and human communities to develop effective and creative approaches to building responsive and proactive resilience, we turn to Della Rucker, who provides sobering words in this article about Economic Ecosystems and Resilience. She states, “If we are honest about the complexities of our communities, then we have to be honest aboutthe fact that there are few, if any, simple solutions.” But the magnitude of the work shouldn’t stop us from taking action. It’s too important to do nothing.
Here in Vermont, there are lots of activities and thinking underway related to building resiliency. The Roadmap to Resilience produced by ISC takes a comprehensive look at current efforts and what is needed. The State has developed a website that will be substantively updated this summer and is promoting proactive work by our cities and towns through incentives. Nonprofits such as VNRC, White River Partnership, and Community-Resilience.org (and many others) are working to support and even lead these efforts. Cities and towns are receiving advice on land use planning from their Regional Planning Commissions and VLCT. The Red Cross is playing a huge role in organizing the social sector for more efficient disaster relief efforts. The work that is happening in Vermont to recover from Irene and build resilience is also helping to inform national efforts. Last week top White House advisors toured the State with Governor Shumlin to take stock of our recovery efforts and learn from our experience.
One of the biggest challenges is finding information about what towns, cities and surrounding regions are doing to improve resilience across the state. In this implementation phase of the Resilient Vermont project, funded by the High Meadows Fund, ISC is working with Slow Communities and a diverse advisory committee to explore ways to efficiently and effectively make all of this information available to the public. Our blog posts on this website are an early attempt to provide some of this information and thinking while we seek a more comprehensive solution. We are also looking hard at the best way to ensure the disparate efforts across the state spanning from agency to local town are informed, coordinated and accessible. We’ll keep you informed as we make progress and welcome all your ideas.
If you want to learn more or sharpen your skills consider attending Local Solutions: Northeast Climate Change Preparedness Conference, hosted by Antioch University in New Hampshire on May 19-21. Contact VLCT or your Regional Planning Commission about grants to help with the cost of attending.
Listen to Senior Program Officer Debra Perry on the Mark Johnson Show discussing the implications of Vermont’s Roadmap to Resilience, a seminal report from the Resilient Vermont project.
After more than 18 months of holding focus groups involving over 400 Vermonters to explore and uncover the best practices in climate resiliency, the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC) has issued Vermont’s Roadmap to Resilience. This report outlines several recommendations for implementing system-wide changes that will build resilience in the face of extreme weather events in the state of Vermont. As the introduction to report states, “We must become resilient at every level, from individual residents, households, and businesses, to the entire community and state.” In short, these recommendations emphasize the need to not only build structures that can withstand the next extreme weather event, but they reinforce the need to support better planning, preparedness, risk assessment, and collaborative action at the community, regional, and state levels.
The report is organized around four different areas of challenge and opportunity:
To build a resilient Vermont, efforts at many levels and by many different people are necessary, yet this work can easily get pushed to the back burner. That’s because transforming the way things work can be hard work that requires sustained efforts and significant investments. It’s hard work – but it’s necessary. Vermonters can be sure that the future holds more frequent and more intense natural disasters – climate change projections are very clear. In fact, we’ve had 7 FEMA declared major disaster events since our state was devastated by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.
The most important takeaway from the Recommendations in the Roadmap is that Vermonters should be careful not to become complacent or paralyzed. After the devastation and clean-up, it’s not unusual for many of us to move on and avoid preparing for the next disaster. However, to embrace real progress, we need to embrace true resiliency. This means building stronger networks, stronger infrastructure, and enhancing our ability to manage shocks.
The Roadmap provides many concrete steps for making this kind of progress. In his article, After Disasters, Communities Need Long-Term Solutions, Not Quick Fixes, Richard Harwood, President of the Harwood Institute, discusses what other communities have faced and suggests some proactive steps to take in reducing the risks. Similar ideas are worth reading about in VNRC’s thoughtful report, Towards a Resilient State. And if you want to study even larger efforts to proactively prepare, take a look at The Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities inspiring initiative. All these commentaries, reports and actions recognize the expertise and importance of local knowledge, leadership and hard work in preparing and maintaining communities’ resilience.
To ensure that recommendations of the Roadmap move forward, the High Meadows Fund recently awarded a grant to ISC and Slow Communities (SC) to hold two workshops that will help local communities implement the recommendations. We’ll use these workshops as an opportunity to explore long-term solutions to keep this critical statewide planning work going. To help advise these workshops, ISC and SC pulled together an advisory committee that includes individuals from many sectors such as state agencies, emergency management, municipal planning, social services, natural resource protection, rural development, businesses, the insurance industry, and climate change scientists.
With this advisory committee, we are also exploring the formation of a formal Vermont Resilience network that cuts across sectors and interests to coordinate efforts, share learning and build an approach that will help prepare and assist Vermont’s communities for future climate change challenges. We are excited to share our thoughts on this collaborative effort as it develops, and we’ll use these blog posts as a way to share information on upcoming workshops as well as general updates on long-term resilience planning solutions.
If you want to learn or sharpen your skills consider attending Local Solutions: Northeast Climate Change Preparedness Conference, hosted by Antioch University in New Hampshire on May 19-21. Contact VLCT or your Regional Planning Commission about grants to help with the cost of attending. Another event that has sessions on building resilience is the upcoming When Governments Cooperate – State Government Municipal Day 2014 in Montpelier on March 31.
Please keep an eye out for future posts and on the Resilient Vermont home page as we’ll be sharing more with you over these next 6 months.
Thank you for all the work you are doing to help make your community and our state strong!
Watch ISC president George Hamilton and Vermont’s Irene Recovery Director Sue Minter live on WCAX’s talk show, The:30, talking about the Resilient Vermont Project.
Listen to George Hamilton and Senior Program Advisor Steve Adams on the Mark Johnson Show sharing ISC’s international experience in community process, specific examples of post-disaster projects, and regional responses to a changing climate.