For this class, we had the pleasure of hearing Toni speak about her research for her dissertation, which proved to be very applicable and enlightening for the topics we had been studying in this class, as well as our personal RAD project endeavors. She presented on a community in Queens that had taken action after being left without power for many days after storm damages. This community came together and decided to pursue a lawsuit against Con Edison for any damages and suffering they had been forced to go through without power. At the time, many residents were forced to simply sit outside their homes because it was just so hot that to stay inside without air conditioning would be even worse. Many business owners lost goods to be sold because their refrigerators no longer worked. They followed through with their lawsuit and received a considerable amount of money granted to the Astoria community from Con Edison (I believe close to $8 million?)
The community members were faced with how to use this money. Rather than divide it up among the residents, they came together, voted, and made the choice to use it to implement environmental projects and sustainable measures to better the community. This choice that they made is very significant, because community members were thinking of the health and resiliency of the community in the long run rather than repairing small, individual monetary losses as a result of the storm.
Toni mentioned that she uses the terms “bridging, bonding, and linking” consistently throughout her presentation, and I think those terms are really great for systems thinking and thinking about the relationships between systems, or how they interact/coexist. She described how this situation in Astoria was an example of bridging within a community, bonding between members of the community through their initiatives such as a community garden, and linking to governmental initiatives and policy.
In addition, Toni mentioned the ideas of environmental stewardship, and social capital measuring. Before the storm and these environmental initiatives, the community in general lacked instances of environmental stewardship. Social capital is a form of economic and cultural capital in which social networks are central and transactions are marked by reciprocity, trust, and cooperation. After the initiative that was taken by this community, their social capital increased exponentially. Members of the community worked together to pursue what they wanted (reparation from Con Ed) and again worked together to devise a plan for how to use this money. Cooperation and trust between community members grew as they got to know each other better through taking care of their community.
Increased social capital is, of course, a method of increased community resilience, especially in the face of climate change and natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy. By facilitating community involvement, there is now the increased likelihood of future civic involvement in this community. The community is more networked and more connected, which allows for better communication about issues related to community vulnerabilities and problems, and then leads to successful and deliberate action. The community now has a drastically improved infrastructure to be prepared for climate change and its many manifestations. Other communities, especially in New York City and along the coasts of the boroughs should take note in order to increase their resilience.