From Resilience Hubs to Resilient Networks: Self-Determination at Multiple Scales

This post represents some of my early research on community resilience, and is only a snapshot of a larger work in progress. As such it may contain incomplete thoughts or concepts which may change or ultimately get discarded as my thinking evolves.

Resilience Hubs are trusted and well-used infrastructure, such as community centers, churches, recreation centers, parks, with a history of providing everyday services, programs, and/or material support to local community members, which enhance their capacities to meet community needs on a daily basis, and build up their capacity to meet existing and emergent community needs in times of emergency and recovery, in the face of shocks, such as climate change, pandemics, and economic turmoil.[1]Baja, K., McKinstry-Wu, S., Oxnam, G., & Fitzgerald, G. (2019). Guide to Developing Resilience Hubs. USDN. 

The specific offerings of resilience hubs are contextual, geographically specific, and when done well, designed at the direction of the community itself. Yet there are certain features which are broadly consistent across diverse implementations of the model throughout the country:

  • Programs and Services — providing culture, community, and connection for residents; these are usually in place before the site’s evolution into a hub, and what makes them a trusted resource; optimal hub planning enhances and expands these features.
  • Energy — the ability to provide heating, cooling, electricity year-round, often utilizing a “Hybrid Resilience System (HyRS)”, or solar plus a storage system that can provide energy for at least a few days during grid failures. 
  • Water — On site water collection, sourcing, and storage, from the municipal system, local catchment, and/or advance purchase. 
  • Food — Local production, preparation, distribution, and storage, in the form of community gardens, dry storage, community kitchens, and/or food box pickup and delivery
  • Communications — Free Wi-Fi, telephone service, ham radio, and/or walkie-talkies, as a means of receiving and distributing valuable information to and between members of the community, directing them toward resources or sharing safety measures and protocols. 

However, one of the strengths of the resilience hub — control/ownership of a physical space — is also one of its key limitations in that where the facility is compromised (e.g. by state violence or natural disaster), so too goes most of its capacity for resilience. What I hope to discover is how this same capacity can be distributed across wider networks of people, organizations, and facilities in order to build redundancy and deepen resilience.

From Resilience Hub to Resilient Network

The key pivot from the singular resilience hub to the “resilient network” is in building capacity for self-provisioning and thereby self-determination at multiple scales: from the individual household to the block to the neighborhood to the city.

Household Scale

Some residents are able to hold certain capacities for self-provisioning through homesteading: growing and storing their own food; catching and using rainwater or recycling gray water for gardening and farming, purifying it as a backup drinking water source; installing solar panels with backup batteries. These capacities may become more widespread through city programs for low-income households, but the enrollment rate is low due to a variety of bureaucratic barriers and the city’s poor communication: a strategic filter to prevent enrollment from exceeding the budget for the programs. While individual homesteading cannot be adopted at a scale to effect the broader picture of community resilience in a significant way, it does offer some small potential for these neighbors to support themselves and others in critical moments, and to alleviate some of the strain on the block-scale infrastructure.

Block Scale

At the level of the block — 20 to 40 adjacent and facing households — vacant parcels can be repurposed as food forests using layered polycultures, producing large and diverse yields. Some food would be grown for seeds, to be both replanted in the next season, or stored in a seed bank and shared between neighbors for their own personal gardens. Street trees offer additional food, shade, and water retention — which, incorporated into a larger water harvesting plan [2]Lancaster, B. (2019). Rainwater Harvesting For Drylands And Beyond, Volume 1: Guiding Principles To Welcome Rain Into Your Life And Landscape (Vol. 1). Rainsource Press., would not only mitigate flooding, but provide additional water for farming and consumption. 

The food forest might enable the creation of worker-owned coops, for both produce and honey, supported through a CSA program for immediate neighbors, any surplus distributed to neighborhood hubs or sold to local markets. These coops might supply other worker-owned enterprises, such as a juice and smoothie coop, and be supplied by a composting co-op which collects food waste from neighbors door to door. 

Where rainwater is collected in barrels and/or cisterns, as a flood mitigation measure, where the technical capacities for purification, or the need for water for household gardening don’t exist, a niche is created for yet another worker-owned enterprise: this one collecting unused rainwater from households, purifying it at a designated local site, and then providing neighbors with fresh drinking water through a low-cost subscription program, or even moneyless exchange, using and reusing glass bottles to eliminate plastic waste and costs. The water coop could also supply water to the juice coop. 

Finally, where space allows (including sufficient shared rooftop real estate across rowhomes), a local solar array or microgrid could be owned and maintained by a block-scale energy cooperative, provisioning multiple households, storing surplus in batteries, or selling it to the municipal grid as an additional revenue stream.

The governance and coordination of this social and material infrastructure would fall to Block Level Organizing Committees (BLOCs), a small block-scale council, and more democratic alternative to the singular “block captain”. These BLOCs would also facilitate distribution of information and resources between blocks, and to/from resilience hubs at the larger neighborhood scale. Intentional communities offer a model for creating additional social redundancy in terms of how people relate to each other and share power; this in turn reinforces direct democratic structures of resilient networks and allocation/distribution of resources.

Neighborhood Scale

Multiple community organizations could leverage their collective assets and capacities to meet community needs at each of the four critical nodes of food, water, energy, and housing. Beyond providing direct services and material support to the community, the neighborhood resilience hub helps to build and strengthen relationships within and between nodes and the community, and to provide logistical support to coordinate and distribute information and resources. 

The food node is a collaboration between organizations at different locations within the food system: i.e. production (growing, foraging), distribution, preparation, service, and waste management. Similarly, the water node coordinates the collection, purification, storage, and distribution of water. The energy node provides a secondary source of energy (i.e. detached from the municipal utility, as in solar microgrids), as well as sourcing materials and providing technical support to build and maintain this secondary infrastructure. The housing node may coordinate temporary housing for people in need, coordinate funding, labor, and/or training for home repairs, and assist in retrofitting existing housing for more efficiency and resilience.

The “hub” in this formation is a collective governance and shared logistical structure between nodes. While a singular organization or facility may serve as a hub, governance and coordination is fluid and adaptive, with multiple organizations identifying their assets and capacities, accounting for any gaps therein to provision the community with the resources it needs to thrive. It also connects assets between nodes, such as sourcing food waste for fuel, water for food production, energy for heating and cooling. 

Municipal Scale

At the city scale, there is coordination between nodes to create asset-based networks — again in the areas of food, water, energy, and housing — sharing information and (re)distributing any surplus resources where needed. At the same time, where a neighborhood node is compromised, the hub network can route the necessary resources from the larger asset networks to fill the gap. Where a neighborhood hub itself fails, the asset networks also serve as a fallback to direct their particular resource(s) to the community with logistical support from other hubs.  

At the municipal or even regional scale, there is the possibility of building the material and sociopolitical infrastructure for “dual power”, to be responsive to the failures and violences of the state, and to serve as a scaffold/off-ramp to alternative social and economic formations.[3]Escalante, A. (2019, March 26). Communism and climate change: A dual power approach. Regeneration Magazine. By meeting people’s needs in the moment, the resilient network would create space for building capacity and analysis, to create institutions and networks of counterpower, and engage in a process of collective world-making.