A Sense of Community is the Heart of Resilience
I know I’m not the only one who has watched in stunned disbelief at the horrible images that are coming out of Houston and South Texas. They are eerily similar to the ones we watched this same weekend 12 years ago coming out of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast when Katrina and Rita hit. And to the ones that filled our screens during Sandy’s march through the northeast.
Given my long association with the green building movement, you probably think that this will be another hand-wringing about climate change. Its tendency to make the bad worse when it comes to extreme weather events. An intellectual pondering about why we’re not doing more to mitigate it in the face of all the scientific evidence that it’s a BIG PROBLEM.
But, I’ll save that for another day.
Instead, I have something I want to celebrate – US. US, as in the people and the communities that make up this amazing country we’re proud to call home.
For every heartbreaking photo of tragedy in the past few days, we’ve seen the steely resolve of individual resilience. For every image of destruction, there are images of selflessness, of compassion. At the micro level of short streets and neighborhoods, at the district level of collections of neighborhoods with names even New Yorkers like me recognize – Galleria, Memorial -- we’ve seen overwhelming acts of kindness, of heroism. At the city and state level, we’ve seen people set aside their political and philosophical differences and work together to try their best to respond to the urgent of the moment, and at the same time plan for the longer- term support of the thousands whose lives have been upended. And from sea to shining sea, the offers of help – food, water, clothing, money, extra hands – have poured in.
As humans, we have a deep need to be a community. We know we’re better off when we link arms, share resources, manage our communal lives for the common good. And in the face of the impacts we’ve seen these past few days, we know we need to do better.
Today, the International WELL Building Institute, the organization I head, launches the WELL Community Standard, a district-scale rating system centered exclusively on advancing the health and wellness of individuals not just within the walls of their home or workplace, but throughout the public spaces that link the buildings where they spend their days.
The WELL Community Standard is a companion to the WELL Building Standard (WELL), a performance-based system for measuring, certifying and monitoring features of buildings that impact human health and wellness. The WELL Community Standard incorporates concepts specific to new urban-scale categories around Air, Water, Light, Sound, Temperature, Materials, Nourishment, Fitness, Mind and Community. It focuses on evidence-based research to derive appropriate, actionable strategies and interventions, and applies these concepts at the community scale.
As Houston picks up the pieces, and as other communities nervously eye their own policies and protocols for development, I hope they will choose to do what WELL encourages – to put humans at the center of every design, construction and operational system that they rebuild or rethink. I promise you if they do, at every dimension they will make different decisions.
From zoning to infrastructure placement, from how and where we spend tax dollars for the communal good, from demanding stronger regulations for controlling the contaminants in our water and the pollution in our air, we need to do everything we can to encourage that sense of community which uniquely defines our humanity and in the process protects and enhances our health. And which in times of great disaster it is that sense of community that will ultimately save us.
If Harvey teaches us nothing else, it’s that our communities are the places where we are our best selves. And right now, that really matters.