Nicholas Price is a documentary filmmaker and the audiovisual coordinator at Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.
Judith Rodin's new book offers insight for a tumultuous world.
Resilience, lately, is a term appropriated for whatever cause or side feels an exterior stress. We can look at the protestors in Ferguson opting to stay resilient in the face of a system that has devalued the lives of people of color. Even the police responders would see resilience a fitting term for their struggle to enforce the law and maintain order in an environment where their judgment is being constantly second-guessed.
But for Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation and author of the new book The Resilience Dividend, both of the above examples obfuscate the crucial importance of how the concept of resilience ought to be understood and embraced today.
Her book’s central argument offers resilience as a reason to adopt policies that allow for mass-scale preparation in the face of certain but unknowable future disasters. And though the book discusses resilience primarily in context of disasters such as devastating storms, Rodin’s concept also sees dividends when applied to crises that stem from social stratification and unrest. Through resilience, communities and governments both can minimize the impact of the unavoidable by fortifying infrastructure and social structure. In essence, spending far more than we are now to reduce the impacts of even greater risks down the road.
In the book, Rodin illustrates her argument with case studies including the legacy of the drug cartels in Medellín, Colombia, post-Sandy New York, post-Katrina New Orleans, and Boston in the aftermath of the 2013 marathon bombing. The reality, as Rodin sees it, is that societies across the globe are clearly facing escalating and accelerating disasters. "Crisis is the new normal, and we need to develop a new way against that reality," she says in an interview.
Take Medellín, a key story for Rodin and one of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities, an initiative that works to help cities become more resilient in the face of economic, environmental, and social challenges. In the 1980s and 1990s the city was largely known for horrific violent crime related to the drug trade and human trafficking. Starkly divided between rich and poor and suffering from a shockingly high murder rate, the mountainous city had hit rock bottom. But today, Medellín’s path is quite different. Through a joint effort among community members, businesses and governments, the city now boasts a redesigned public transit system that has helped formerly isolated slum communities be better connected to the wealth of the valley below—while at the same time reducing the need to participate in the drug trade.
It's through stories like that of Medellín that Rodin sees the urgent need for resilience-focused policies that strengthen communities. “The thing about the resilience framework is that it’s building the capacity—a better and different kind of response to those kinds of stressors as well as the natural kind of disaster," she says. "They equally throw communities for a loop; they equally have horrific economic impact; and they equally destroy the social fabric."
From the book comes this idea that focusing on resilience can deliver social dividends through joint community preparation, as opposed to a fragmented community reaction (see: Ferguson today). Inevitably, things can and will go wrong. Hence why resilience in her framework is "about discussion and about consensus building."
"I strongly believe that building community capacity comes from the bottom up," Rodin says. "But it takes courage from the top down as well."