By Shanna Williamson.
As an environmental fellow with the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance (MSGA), I participated in their Great Neighborhoods Campaign which is a collaborative effort aimed at addressing housing challenges in the Boston region. This 10-year campaign focused on reforming Massachusetts’s zoning and permitting laws to encourage healthy, diverse, and equitable community development. One of the tactics used by MSGA to demonstrate the importance of passing zoning reform legislation was attaching the stories of residents whom have been negatively impacted by the lack of housing in the region to the abstract zoning reform policies crafted by the MSGA team. Another tactic was establishing spaces in which residents of different towns and cities in the surrounding Boston region could informally gather to discuss how they envision growth for their communities.
As part of the Great Neighborhoods campaign, I assisted with these community organizing and outreach efforts and saw them as an effective way to not only connect community members to discuss the sectors of development (i.e. improved transit, walkability, green space) they believe to be most pertinent to their town or city’s growth, but also empower residents to organize and involve themselves in the development process. As a result of my involvement with MSGA’s Great Neighborhoods campaign, I believe I was exposed to some of the best approaches to orientating communities to the resources available to them to achieve development goals specific to their neighborhoods.
Towards the end of my summer experience, I was also able to delve into some of Massachusetts adaptation, mitigation, and resiliency efforts, specifically those pertaining to sea level rise and associated flooding. During the last legislative session in Massachusetts, environmental organizations were successful in passing bills that would aid in adapting to as well as mitigating the effects of sea level rise in Massachusetts. In regards to resiliency efforts, environmental groups were also successful in passing the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) grant program as part of an environmental bond bill. Through the MVP program, cities and towns in Massachusetts would be provided support to develop and implement plans for climate adaptation and resiliency on the local level. Specifically, one of the highlighted deliverables of the MVP program is prioritized action steps communities may take to enhance their resiliency. This deliverable is imperative to effective resiliency planning as my research on effective resiliency strategies consistently emphasizes the need for community engagement at the local level. Such engagement could take many forms such as having community members develop a networked communication system which would transfer information (i.e. preparedness plan updates, coastal hazard updates) from local leaders to the neighborhood level during all stages of an event (Goodschalk 2003).
I also believe that MSGA’s community organizing techniques is another effective engagement strategy that may help enhance the resiliency of vulnerable coastal communities, especially those that are not typically involved in the adaptation, mitigation, and resiliency planning and process. That is, for those communities that frequently encounter the negative impacts of climate change, it may be worth it to arrange organized informal gatherings where coastal residents, scientists, stakeholders, and local leadership may discuss their concerns, propose potential solutions to their most pressing environmental problems, and incorporate the opinions of local residents in the planning. Addressing how we deal with climate change in this manner encourages those who are typically left out of planning to contribute to the conversation and may result in stronger adaptation, mitigation, and resiliency strategies.
Godschalk, David R. 2003. Urban Hazard Mitigation: Creating Resilient Cities. Natural Hazards Review 4(3): 136-142.
Shanna is originally from the Bronx, NY. She obtained her B.A. in the Geosciences from Skidmore College and recently completed her M.S. in Marine Science at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Her graduate research focused on land use and climate change impacts on watersheds in North Carolina. She spent the summer assisting the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance with their Great Neighborhoods Campaign and also increased her understanding of climate adaptation, mitigation, and resiliency strategies for coastal communities in Boston.