October 9, 2017

Can Creative Placemaking Be Used as a Tool to Build Community Resilience?

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With recent extreme weather events such as hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in the Southeast, coupled with drought and wildfires in the West, the need for community resilience is more pressing than ever. And as the planet continues to warm, extreme events will continue to grow in regularity and impact.

Through our work rebuilding communities after natural disasters and preparing them for future extreme weather and climate change, Enterprise has learned that for a community to be truly resilient, we must also focus on human networks and be sensitive to the unique culture of each place. "Strong connections help people in crises by offering mutual aid, enabling collective action, and enabling individuals to make better decisions," according to Daniel P. Aldrich, Co-director of the Security and Resilience Studies Program at Northeastern University. This is especially important for organizations that specialize in affordable housing, because low-income communities of color typically bear the brunt of extreme weather events.

To help organizations strengthen their toolkit for building community resilience, Enterprise launched the Climate and Cultural Resilience Grant Program. This program connects the dots between resilient infrastructure, creative placemaking strategies and social cohesion. By creating a stronger social bond and improving the resilience of the built environment, neighborhoods can overcome impacts from both physical disasters and chronic challenges.

Mural - Clint Austin_Duluth News Tribune_1.jpg
Artists finish AICHO’s mural at the Powless Cultural Center in Duluth, Minnesota

In 2017, five community development organizations across the country received this grant funding to support their use of creative placemaking to build community resilience.

  • WonderRoot and Southface Energy Institute partnered to address stormwater issues in Oakland City, Atlanta. In an effort to mitigate some of the displacement caused by the development of Atlanta’s Beltline, WonderRoot is will develop and launch a public art and wayfinding project that denotes community assets in the natural and built environments. Many of these same communities have seen extreme disinvestment and are located in or near the most vulnerable parts of the city. Now, with the expansion of the Beltline, residents are building resilience not only to flooding, but also to displacement as property taxes increase and rents skyrocket.
  • American Indian Community Housing Organization in Duluth, Minnesota is responding to the challenges of climate change by generating clean electricity through their rooftop solar installation, improving access to traditional foods and medicines through their rooftop medicinal herb garden, and integrating arts and cultural programming including murals and cultural events to draw awareness to the presence and value of native communities in the region.
  • Center for Neighborhood Technology and University of Chicago Arts + Public Life, plus four neighborhood-based partners, are creating a social and environmental justice initiative and developing four site-specific art and green infrastructure installations within a half-mile of transit stops in areas of high economic hardship.
  • Chinatown Community Development Center in San Francisco seeks to enhance social cohesion and climate resilience through the building of partnerships with city government agencies to amplify the design of Portsmouth Square park and ensure that it results from a culture-driven, inclusive design process and that it serves the long-term residents. In August, Chinatown CDC held a youth-led eco-fair to educate fellow residents on conservation, recycling, and other environmentally friendly strategies, as well as to participate in interactive art projects that envision the future of Portsmouth Square.
  • Coalfield Development based in Wayne, West Virginia with a project site in Mingo County, provides out-of-work coal miners with retraining in reforestation, solar installation, furniture making and sustainable agriculture on former mountaintop removal sites. Local artists and artisans mentor low-income trainees in trades unique to the place: quilting, woodworking, mountain music, foraging/canning, beekeeping, pottery, and glassblowing. These same trainees are hired in partnership with The Nature Conservancy to do re-forestation work, solar installation, sustainable agriculture, and green housing on former mountain-top-removal sites.

Enterprise’s Climate and Cultural Resilience Grant Program is supported by generous funding from The Kresge Foundation, The Kendeda Fund and HUD’s Capacity Building for Community Development and Affordable Housing Program.