Resilient Communities Are Tough, Pliant, and Durable

Mayor George Heartwell, Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss and Asst. CM Haris Alibasic of Grand Rapids

Mayor George Heartwell, Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss and Asst. CM Haris Alibasic of Grand Rapids

Floods. Wildfires. Droughts. Hurricanes and tornadoes. Fuel shortages. Energy blackouts. Extreme heat and cold. You can get tons of information about what’s going wrong in the world —and even more opinions on who or what is to blame. Enough of both, in fact, to fill Noah’s Ark and sink it, all before you’ve loaded up a single lemur or humpbacked whale.

So forget all that for now. What matters is how we deal with whatever gets thrown at us, so that we survive and yes, even thrive, in the face of it. And that takes planning and preparation. That’s what resilient communities are all about.

When it comes to dealing with natural disasters, cities are literally on the front line—taking the hit full in the face from extreme weather events, environmental catastrophes, public health emergencies, you name it.  Wherever you have large concentrations of people and infrastructure and you have not planned for the unexpected, you have a critically vulnerable soft spot —like exposing your community’s jugular and just hoping nothing bites. And that attacker could be coming in armed to the teeth with blizzards, floods, and gale force winds.

Back before Katrina hit New Orleans, the popular attitude was to view natural disasters and their aftereffects as horrible but rare and unavoidable events. There was a kind of passive fatalism about it all, reactive rather than proactive.

We can’t afford that kind of attitude anymore. In the last few years we’ve seen that extreme weather, energy, and economic challenges have become the new norm. So how many times can Dorothy’s house land on the Wicked Witch before she learns to get out of the way? Whether you want to call it climate change, global bad luck, or the Wrath of Khan, it’s a brave new world out there, kids. Emergency planning takes a whole lot more than hiding out in a storm shelter under the city library. Good emergency plans include sustainability, proactive infrastructure investments, and continual updating with the latest information and innovations.

Here in The Review, you’ll find lots of great articles on a wide range of topics. You’re also going to learn what smart, proactive local leaders are doing to prepare their communities for the worst.

You’ll read about Whitehall’s “green road” that has effectively mitigated the city’s decades-long history of storm water flooding and industrial pollution. You’ll hear how the Land Information Access Association (LIAA) worked with Monroe, Ludington, and several other cities to develop resiliency plans. You’ll learn how the city of Grand Rapids came through a major flood in April 2013 with relatively little damage, largely due to preemptive investments in floodReviewwalls and storm sewer improvements, sustainable infrastructure, and a rapid-response emergency action plan. In fact, the city’s proactive efforts to protect itself and its residents from flooding and other extreme weather events prompted President Obama to appoint Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell to the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience in November of 2013.

Looking for a way to start? The Resilient Communities for America campaign ( is calling on the leaders of local government “to take effective, wide-ranging local actions to prepare for climate change impacts, improve local energy independence, renew America’s infrastructure, and strengthen their economies in the process.” The campaign will also provide members with critical resources to help them achieve those goals. It’s worth a look…

…Because we don’t need to be Chicken Little yelling that the sky is falling down. But it helps to have those umbrellas handy in case it does. Just sayin’.

*This blog is adapted from my column in the May/June issue of The Review