Over the last fifteen years, many US municipalities have set sustainability goals and implemented
policies and programs to achieve them. More recently, resilience has emerged as an additional goal of
some municipalities, particularly in the wake of extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy and major
economic disruptions like the Great Recession.
This study explored how some municipalities that are already leading the way on sustainability are now
understanding and applying the concept of resilience. Senior staff at fourteen selected municipalities of
various regions and sizes were surveyed on their communities’ perceived risks and vulnerabilities, and
how these were being addressed. Five major conclusions were derived from the responses, some of
which run counter to the “conventional wisdom” on resilience:
1. While “resilience” is interpreted many ways, it is largely understood by these sustainability
leaders to have a scope greater than mere disaster preparedness. This stands in contrast to
the current public conversation on resilience in urban planning and policy circles (and
increasingly in popular media and politics), where concerns about climate change and natural
disasters generally dominate.
2. Resilience-building is already regarded as an important part of these communities’ ability to
deliver services, although respondents ascribed different specific activities to it. This was
unexpected as resilience has not been a significant topic in local public policy and planning until
only very recently.
3. Lack of time and lack of resources are seen as the biggest barriers to resilience-building
actions, not necessarily a lack of public or government awareness. Budgetary constraints also
had a direct impact on the pace of adoption of relevant initiatives.
4. Citizen pressure is a major influence on resilience-building actions. Citizens understand the
need for greater resilience and want actions to enhance it.
5. Neither national nor local regulations are seen as significantly hindering community
resilience-building actions. Changes in local regulations are, in fact, pushing adoption of
resilience-building approaches more than federal regulations.
These findings suggest that efforts to encourage resilience-building in all U.S. communities should:
Reach beyond disaster preparedness and basic awareness-raising.
Identify and work with local government officials, agencies, and staff—as well as community
leaders and stakeholders—who are already engaged in resilience-building.
Prioritize the need for dedicating resources.
Recognize the value of local leadership and policymaking.
Look to and learn from the experiences of those communities in the vanguard of building