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Thoughts from Our Fellows: Build Resilient Communities

August 31, 2021

August 31, 2021

Welcome to Thoughts from Our Fellows, a collection of recent activity regarding the Academy's Grand Challenge of each Month. In August, the Academy focused on Build Resilient Communities. Below you will find:

  • The recommendations from our Election 2020 project regarding the first year of the new administration,
  • Recommendations from our fellows for the next few years of the Biden Administration,
  • Management Matters podcasts related to this grand challenge, and
  • The top 5 clicked articles on this grand challenge from our Management Matters online newsletter.
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Election 2020

In November of 2020, the Academy published a paper on this topic as a part of its Election 2020 Project. The Working Group recommended the following actions for its first paper, Developing and Empowering a National Resilience Agenda in 2021:

  • Develop a comprehensive resilience strategy that addresses the threats faced by the nation, asks for a long-term commitment and ongoing investment from all participants in both the public and private sector, and considers resilience on a global perspective and as a societal characteristic.
  • Establish a national resilience director and national resilience office that operate jointly to facilitate decisions across the federal government, integrate in the life of communities, engage top practitioners and academics, build partnerships across sectors, operate in a collaborative manner, and recognize the work that state and local governments have already done.
  • Increase critical capacity across the nation built on the ideas that resources are central, education is a capacity multiplier, and infrastructure is the foundation upon which resilience rests.

Thoughts from Our Fellows

In addition to our Election 2020 papers, which focused on recommended actions for the first year of a new administration, the Academy also asked its Fellows for advice for the first four years of the Biden Administration.

Greg Devereaux: Governments at all levels should be encouraging and investing in the same approaches and elements that make any community a great place to live and work:
a well-run local government reflective of an engaged constituency - transparent, inclusive, and fiscally responsible; a community that is as balanced and as complete as it can be, for its size and location; a community, which takes responsibility for itself and understands that in a major disaster, despite a system that is designed to provide help from successive layers of government, it needs to be prepared to depend on, and fend for, itself for a substantial period of time; communities in which preparedness isn’t an afterthought or viewed as an ancillary responsibility but, a core responsibility and totally integrated into every aspect of how they operate on a daily basis.

It starts with a shared vision of the kind of community that all of the stakeholders want and the future that they want for it. A recognition that all of the elements that make up that shared vision are not only inter-related but, interdependent and therefore everyone’s, every sector’s, responsibility – a sense of responsibility to, and for, the whole. Govt not doing, solving, or providing everything but, acting as the Convenor and knowing how, when, and by whom it will be done.

Dan Guttman: In this time of global geopolitical challenges and common concern about the climate change crisis, comparative understanding of local approaches to adaptation may be of special value; for example, flooding, fires, drought, and heat in Coastal regions of countries globally. For example, as global responses to Covid are demonstrating, country responses provide multiple models, with degrees of effectiveness now being gauged continually.

To this end, and as part of the Grand Challenges, the Academy, the Fudan University London School of Economics Institute for Global Public Policy, and Melbourne University Sustainable Society Institute are beginning a project to create frameworks for practitioner/scholar (and student) use in comparative learning. US participants in ongoing brainstorming include scholars/practitioners from Duke, Stanford, University of California Santa Barbara environmental programs, the Rand Climate Resilience Institute, and the Environmental Law Institute. Chinese counterparts include scholar-practitioners from Fudan, Shanghai Jiao Tong, Tianjin, Ocean Universities, and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Inquiries about NAPA Fellow participation are welcome. Fellows may reach out to jhiggins@napawash.org.

Randolph May: "Build Resilient Communities – A Tocquevillian Perspective"

Perhaps the primary responsibility of local governments, whether cities or counties, is to provide for the public health and safety of their citizens. And, of course, providing and maintaining certain basic infrastructure, such as streets, sidewalks, local transportation, is also crucial to fostering an environment in which a vibrant social and economic life can flourish. But here, in thinking about building resilient communities, I want to invoke Alex de Tocqueville – and urge that his observations, after traveling throughout America, are no less important today than they were in 1835 when he published his famous book, Democracy in America.

In perhaps the most oft-quoted passage, Tocqueville reported that:

The political associations that exist in the United States are only a single feature in the midst of an immense assemblage of associations in that country. Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions, constantly form associations. They have not only commercial and manufacturing companies, in which all take part, but associations of a thousand other kinds—religious, moral, serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive.

While acknowledging a necessary role for government, Tocqueville asked, rhetorically: “What political power could ever carry on the vast multitude of lesser undertakings which the American citizens perform every day, with the assistance of the principle of association?”

As a keen student of human nature, Tocqueville recognized the positive role that private associational activity could play in enriching an individual’s life. Tocqueville famously suggested "the heart is enlarged and the mind is developed" only by the reciprocal influence of men and women working together in their voluntary associations. This voluntary associational engagement, whether undertaken through religious or various other civil society organizations, is a predicate to building resilient communities, not only by virtue of the positive contributions they make but also by virtue of providing a means for meeting the innate need of individuals to live satisfying lives.

This voluntary associational engagement, whether undertaken through religious or various other civil society organizations, is a predicate to building resilient communities, not only by virtue of the positive direct contributions they make but also by virtue of providing a means for meeting the innate need of most individuals to participate in communal activities in order to live satisfying lives.


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Top 5 Articles on Build Resilient Communities

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Route Fifty: US History shows spending on infrastructure doesn't always end well, by Richard White

Over the past two centuries, federal, state and municipal governments across the U.S. have launched wave after wave of infrastructure projects.

They built canals to move freight in the 1830s and 1840s. Governments subsidized railroads in the mid- and late 19th century. They created local sewage and water systems in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and then dams and irrigation systems through much of the 20th century. During World War II, massive amounts of public money were spent building and expanding ports, factories, airfields and shipyards. And after the war, highway construction – long a state and local project – became a federal endeavor.

Many of these projects did not end well. The problem wasn’t that the country didn’t need infrastructure – it did. And the troubles weren’t the result of technical failures: By and large, Americans successfully built what they intended, and much of what they built still stands.

Read The Full Article

Marketplace: How mortgage algorithms perpetuate racial disparity in home lending, by Dave Brancaccio and Rose Conlon

Lenders are more likely to deny mortgage loans to people of color than to white people with comparable financial profiles, according to new reporting by the investigative news outlet The Markup. Racial bias was present even after reporters controlled for factors like income and neighborhood, as well as factors that lenders previously said would explain the disparities: debt-to-income ratio and combined loan-to-value ratio.

The reporters could not control for credit scores due to public data limitations, but government regulators have determined that credit scores alone do not account for racial disparities in lending.

Read The Full Article

Governing: What is in the new bipartisan infrastructure bill? by Ben Miller

A bipartisan infrastructure bill now under debate in the U.S. Senate promises more than $500 billion in new spending — including massive programs that will benefit state and local government.

The spending, contained in a 2,700-page bill passed by the House of Representatives and going through amendments in the Senate now, covers a wide range of programs but delivers the bulk of the funding to roads, bridges, transit and water. Here are the broad funding areas, as outlined in a White House fact sheet:

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Governing: Our infrastructure problem is mostly just old age, by Aaron Renn

The bipartisan infrastructure bill approved by the Senate has left a lot of people on both sides of the aisle unhappy. Many Republicans would have preferred to deny Biden any sort of political victory (in the way that Democrats refused to deal with Donald Trump), or say the spending is wasteful. Progressives are angry about the amount of money going to highways and the lack of money for their priorities, especially climate change and public transportation.

Our endless debates over infrastructure result in part from our place toward the end of the maturity curve for development. Lots of Americans have China envy. We see their gleaming cities, their expansive new subway systems, their ultra-smooth high-speed rail, and wonder why we can’t have that.

What people forget is that during our rising era of industrialization and urbanization, we did have that. We were the China of that age. We built massive electricity infrastructure, water and sewage works, trains and subways. Then we added a world-class freeway system and airport network.

Read The Full Article

Governing: As COVID lingers, how can health communications be improved, by Carl Smith

More than a century ago, the Supreme Court ruled that a mandatory smallpox vaccination policy in Massachusetts did not violate Fourteenth Amendment rights. Even so, millions of Americans view COVID-19 response measures — from vaccination to limits on gatherings — as violations of their personal liberty and beliefs, not as science-based strategies that could protect those they love.

No one would say that the rules for good health vary according to party affiliation. But when it comes to COVID-19, political persuasion makes a difference. A Monmouth University survey published this month found that 85 percent of Democrats support bringing back masking and social distancing guidelines to slow the latest surge in COVID-19 cases, while 73 percent of Republicans oppose these measures. Similarly, a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll found that more than 80 percent of Democrats are in favor of vaccination mandates, as compared to 35 percent of Republicans.

Read The Full Article