Tackling Resiliency in Michigan
By: Pablo Majano, Senior Community Planner at MEDC
The ability of communities to plan and prepare in advance is essential to the health, safety, and welfare of Michiganders. Pablo Majano, Senior Community Planner at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, partnered with Kathleen Duffy, Associate Planner, and Catherine Clarke, Planner at SmithGroup to build a resiliency toolkit that focuses on how to measure existing efforts, prioritize tasks, and tackle them with existing resources.
The word “resiliency” has been at the forefront of many conversations over the past few years, especially in response to the pandemic. While it is often used to affirm community strength and fortitude following a disaster or disruptive event, it is increasingly being used to describe a state of preparation. Communities are becoming more resilient by building their capacity to withstand and recover from disastrous events ahead of time.
With the severity and frequency of storms, flooding, heatwaves and wildfires increasing globally, many communities are trying to find proactive ways to respond to the potential shocks and stresses facing their communities. While shocks are typically single-event disasters such as earthquakes or floods, stresses are factors that pressure a community on a daily or reoccurring basis, such as chronic food or water shortages, an overtaxed transportation system, endemic violence, or high unemployment.
Being resilient is having the ability to better withstand a shock or stress and to recover more quickly once that event has occurred.
Since 1977, the governor of Michigan has declared an emergency or disaster over 85 times, ranging from floods to economic collapse. As these shocks and stressors become more frequent in Michigan, a key question must be answered: how can our communities become more resilient before disaster strikes?
The Redevelopment Ready Communities (RRC) Team at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation partnered with SmithGroup to develop a free resource to help communities assess how resilient they are and to make proactive plans to address their specific gaps and needs. Building upon existing resources related to environmental, coastal, and climate resilience, the team tapped experts across the state and took a holistic approach to also address the social and economic resilience needs brought into focus during the pandemic. This set of tools is designed to help communities plan for resilience no matter their size or how much work they’ve already done.
The resulting resiliency toolkit was designed to be an integrated part of established community planning processes. It starts with a self-assessment to determine where communities fall in a 5-step-process towards improved resiliency, and emphasizes five guiding ideas:
- Planning for resiliency goes beyond the physical environment. This toolkit is based on the four pillars of resilient places, people, infrastructure, and economy. A community’s ability to bounce back from a failing single-industry economy is just as important as recovering from a major flood.
- Resiliency impacts everyone and should therefore include everyone. Conversations around resiliency should go beyond environmental commissions to include city zoning officials, downtown associations, housing commissions, citizens, as well as neighboring municipalities and County and State agencies. Partnership building is the key to building resilient capacity.
- Planning for resiliency is a spectrum. Not all Michigan communities will be at the same point in their resiliency journey. Some communities may also be stronger in one area, but weaker in another – and that is OK.
- Resiliency doesn’t need to be expensive. This free toolkit offers a host of vetted resources, from initiative-tracking websites to potential partners. It also provides a sample set of goals, actions, and measurable outcomes that communities can adapt into their own plans.
- Planning for resiliency doesn’t require vast resources. Not all communities have the staff capacity to create dedicated resiliency roles. It is important to build a culture of resilient thinking and partnerships that helps existing staff build broad-based support and take action leveraging the time and resources they already have.
There are a number of Michigan communities that have been leading the efforts to increase their resiliency. For example, the City of Ferndale recently used the RRC toolkit to incorporate a climate action plan into its master plan and strengthen its resilience goals and actions throughout the entire plan document. MEDC and SmithGroup are piloting the application of the toolkit in Midland and Marquette to help prioritize goals and actions for inclusion in their own master plan rewrites.
A great example of the long-term benefits of resilient planning can be seen in Philadelphia, which launched its Green City, Clean Waters (GCCW) program in 2011. In an average year, Philadelphia used to release over 13 billion gallons of effluent into its waterways following heavy rain events. GCCW established a green-infrastructure plan to reduce this by 85% (almost 8 billion gallons a year) by 2036. The annual reduction has currently reached 2.7 billion gallons, exceeding the city’s 10-year goal. In the Great Lakes region, Milwaukee and Buffalo are advancing similar green infrastructure initiatives, forging new municipal, commercial and residential partnerships and leveraging new sources of infrastructure funding to improve their resilient capacity, neighborhood parks and green spaces, and quality of life.
By adapting how communities look at comprehensive and city planning, there is tremendous potential for advancing community-driven resiliency that will protect and improve the overall safety, health and economic security of Michiganders in the decades to come.