From flooded homes to heat-related illness, urban communities around the world are increasingly confronted with the damaging effects of the climate crisis. In the United States, many urban areas suffer from inequity, disinvestment and underservice, guaranteeing that these communities bear the brunt of disastrous climate events.
As unpredictable and severe weather events continue to impact the most vulnerable, urban communities are rising to meet these challenges but they need support in devising innovative solutions to the most pressing climate impacts.
The Resilient Cities Network, Z Zurich Foundation and Zurich North America, have joined forces to support holistic resilience at the intersection of flooding, heat and inequity through the Resilience for Communities (R4C) program. R4C, initially being piloted in Houston and Boston, places community engagement and climate equity at the core of resilience building and preparedness.
The R4C program leverages the Climate Resilience Measurement for Communities (CRMC) tool to engage the community and measure resilience over time, revealing how resilience-focused interventions change residents’ experiences during extreme weather events from their own perspective.
Engaging Communities in Houston
Alief and Trinity Houston Gardens are two quintessential Houston neighborhoods that have consistently been exposed to flooding and heatwaves. Built on a flood-prone prairie, Alief remains susceptible to ponding, so much so that during Hurricane Harvey 25% of homes flooded.
Trinity Houston Gardens, with its high poverty and disability rates and food deserts, ranks in the top 10% most socially vulnerable neighborhoods in the country. Environmental vulnerability is particularly high: the community was devastated when Hurricane Harvey, the most severe in a series of destructive floods, flooded 54% of all homes.
R4C’s community-based resilience framework relies on a data-driven, systematic approach to compare and select communities. In addition to susceptibility to floods and heatwaves, the community must have the local support and strong social networks required to operationalize a community engagement strategy, while also being characterized by the inequity, underservice and disinvestment that inhibit preparation and engender vulnerability.
In Houston, city officials and local leaders, with support from R-Cities, came together to select Alief and Trinity Houston Gardens based on a set of criteria guided by the following principles:
- Flooding and heat risk and preparedness
- Ongoing policies, programs, investments and projects to build holistic resilience and equity
- Community and Stakeholder participation
- Strong sense of community and social networks
- Availability of information and data
- Racial and Social Inequity
In discussing the two Houston neighborhoods they selected, officials and leaders emphasized the importance of identity, culture and social bonds in both neighborhoods. Alief is home to large Asian, Latin and African American communities and is a key cultural and economic hub in Houston. It is well known for its diversity and strong sense of identity – over 80 languages are spoken in its schools.
Trinity Houston Gardens has long been known as an activist stronghold and houses one of the first integrated school systems in the city. As lifelong resident of Trinity Houston Gardens, Ms. Huey German-Wilson put it: “We’ve always had community – neighbors helped neighbors, and families took care of others’ children while they worked.”
R4C has now concluded the first phase of community engagement in Houston. During this phase communities participated in surveys and focus group interviews to gauge local resilience perceptions. They shared their experiences of devastating events like Hurricane Harvey and helped identify lingering resilience gaps.
R4C is moving forward with analysis of the data collected across both Alief and Trinity Houston Gardens, and during the program’s next phase, this data will be used to shape interventions that can strengthen the two neighborhoods’ resilience to future flood and extreme heat events.