Resilience for All | Striving for Equity Through Community-Driven Design

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Washington, DC (April 18, 2018)—Town halls and other traditional methods of community engagement are failing vulnerable communities, where power imbalances, structural racism, and classism discourage resident participation. At the same time, poor people of color are more likely to be criminalized than their white counterparts for engaging in guerilla urbanism to directly affect change. In the face of these inequities, underserved communities are reclaiming their power by pioneering new ways to impact neighborhood design.

In Resilience for All (Publication Date: May 24, 2018), urban expert Barbara Brown Wilson highlights communities developing these less conventional, but often more effective methods of community-driven design. The book opens with a short history of community driven design and goes on to share inspiring examples of communities from around the country that have prevailed in spite of serious urban stressors such as disinvestment, displacement, and climate change.

Four in-depth case studies examine recent projects in East Biloxi, Mississippi; the Lower East Side of Manhattan; the Denby neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan; and the Cully neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. The issues and approaches vary in each case, but they share the goal of increasing resilience in vulnerable communities through community-driven design.

Drawing from over 60 interviews and five focus group, Brown Wilson gives voice to local leaders in these communities. Their inspiring projects show how waterway restoration can serve social, economic, and environmental resilience goals and the role that social practice art and tactical urbanism can play in lower-income communities. Other projects include the  student-led campaign to create a recreational space and safe route to school and the use of green infrastructure to fight displacement. Smaller vignettes featuring projects from Fargo, North Dakota, San Francisco, California, and more reinforce key concepts and show how lessons from each case study can be applied to any community.

As resilience planning becomes increasingly important for urban decision making, it is essential that people in vulnerable communities have a voice and are part of the process. Resilience for All provides the tools and inspiration needed to do so, and charts a path forward that is driven by social equity, vibrancy, and hope. It is essential reading for planners, designers, local policymakers, and anyone else working on complex urban challenges.

As Sandra Turner-Handy, a community organizer from Detroit said: “The word ‘empower,’ I truly hate it. No one can empower you. We have the power already…And that is what it’s about—reenergizing the power residents already have.”

Barbara Brown Wilson is assistant professor of urban and environmental planning at the University of Virginia and co-founder of Design Futures. She is a founding member of the Equity Collective.

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