Hays on what makes climate resilient communities
In 1995, a severe heat wave struck Chicago, killing more than 700 people. The disaster hit some neighborhoods much harder than others. For the most part, its devastation closely traced the city's economic and ethnic segregation. More people died in places like Englewood, a South Side neighborhood with a history of poverty and crime, and a largely African-American population; yet some neighborhoods with this same demographic fared remarkably well. Just adjacent to Englewood, the Auburn Gresham community -- also poor and black -- weathered the disaster far better than many of the city's wealthy white communities.
The difference? Auburn Gresham's strong social ties kept residents alive. As Eric Klinenberg explains in his excellent New Yorker piece, residents survived in large part because they knew each other. During the heat wave, neighbors checked on neighbors. They knocked on doors. They knew who was alone, who was elderly, who was most at risk.
As we grapple with how to best prepare for climate change, there's a valuable lesson in Chicago's heat wave. We've been hearing more and more about community resilience -- from the President's creation of a task force on the issue, to his executive order directing agencies to help prepare Americans for the effects of climate change. These measures couldn't be more important. We badly need investments in infrastructure and in emergency response systems that will mitigate damage from coming disasters. But these measures alone don't get us where we need to be.