Neighborhood Climate Resilience, Part 2: “To Endure And Survive” Transcript
Cameron Peters: What does community resilience mean to you?
Leslie Kevles: The ability for a neighborhood to endure and survive. And we like to think we do it together. I think that there's too many individuals, but I know from my street alone, I can only talk about my street, alright? That everybody knows each other and we're constantly looking out for each other, and I think that's where the resiliency comes in. I ask, "What are you doing? What are you planning? What are you getting ready to do right now?" And so, in that aspect, I think resiliency might be on the street by street basis, not so much in the entire community, maybe in total, it is. I don't know for sure.
Cameron Peters: Welcome to Home and High Water, a podcast by the Center for Environmental Studies at Florida Atlantic University about research that uncovers how we live, adapt, and thrive in a changing climate. I’m your host, Cameron Peters.
In our last episode, we dove into part-1 of a 2-part series exploring the assessment that enables us to map and categorize a community’s capacity to respond to natural hazards in one South Florida neighborhood. Today, we will focus on what our research team discovered about the local landscape when they began to collect information about community resilience at the neighborhood scale.
Leslie Kevles: My name is Leslie Kevles, and I live here in the Estates of Fort Lauderdale since 2014 when I move up from Key Largo.
Cameron Peters: The Estates of Fort Lauderdale is located in the City of Dania Beach, South West of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport. It’s a small mobile home community of 782 homes, about 5.5 miles from the beaches and ocean.
Before meeting with the community, FAU’s Center for Environmental Studies, also known as CES, assessed the Estates of Fort Lauderdale’s vulnerability based on the widely accepted vulnerability indicators of age, income, education, and presence of mobile homes. Once completed, this assessment characterized the community within the moderate to high vulnerability category. Yet the CES team’s hunch was that this characterization was just the tip of the iceberg.
Leslie Kevles: The Estates of Fort Lauderdale is a very interesting place. It has just about everything you could possibly want if you're a retiree. We have a pool that's larger than an Olympic-sized pool; we have a hot tub jacuzzi, which is the largest one in Florida, it's 30-some odd feet across with about 18 jets in it. We have a unisex gym, we have separate saunas for men and women, we have a bowling alley, a card room, a golf course, petanque, pickleball, tennis court...Did I mention golf course? If I didn't, we have that. Of course, it's 100% underwater right now.
Cameron Peters: The golf course is underwater because when I interviewed Leslie on November 10th, 2020, Hurricane Eta had just rolled through, causing flooded streets and yards.
Leslie Kevles: There are certain sections of our community here in the Estates that I have noticed in the past two days that are completely flooded. They have water right up to their doors, I don't know what they're doing about it, I don't see any sand bags, of course, the water is now starting to recede a little bit. These are people right next to the lake, where the water has just come over the side.
Cameron Peters: In recent years, Leslie has witnessed the flooding getting worse.
Leslie Kevles: Generally, I would say from May through September and parts of October is our rainy season. This year, it started earlier and it's still ongoing. I mean, we got a little rain this morning and we're gonna get more all week. Now we should be starting our dry season but it's not. I used to never complain about the rain and I used to actually like walking in it. It never bothered me, especially when it's not cold, but it got to me now, I had enough.
Cameron Peters: Over the last six years, Leslie has become an integral part of the community, serving as President of the Community Club. He was also one of the first community members to meet the CES research team and served as a Team Lead throughout the study, helping to organize and mobilize fellow neighbors during the data collection process. CES Graduate Research Assistant Bridget Huston first met Leslie and other key leaders during the outreach process.
Bridget Huston: So when we first met with the community, it was just with a couple of the key personnel - it was me, Dr. Polsky and Jan Booher, and then a couple of the initial gatekeepers and it strangely felt so comfortable. This was like one of my first major meetings with community members and kind of starting that outreach process. So, I was a bit nervous and they made us feel so like at home, they offered us coffee. The conversation was just so organic and natural and comfortable...And I feel like they were super receptive from day one and I just felt kind of bonded with them. Like I wanted to help them, and they wanted to help us. So after that first initial meeting it kind of just ran from there. They expressed a lot of interest in the project and being involved in kind of the key motivators for why we were doing this study. You know, they felt resonated with them a lot.
Cameron Peters: In June 2019, after this initial meeting with the community leaders, Bridget held a Listening Session where the whole community was invited to learn more about the research project and how they could get involved in the study.
Bridget Huston: So, from there we planned a community listening session, which basically was…a set time where we helped to convey our message and our project motivation to a bigger portion of the community. So, it was open to whoever was interested. We kind of just explain the research side of it, the environmental side, why this is important for them, what we want to get out of this project for them. And then it was also a time for them to tell us what's important to them and what they want to get out of the project and kind of just their way of life and their daily experiences. So I think the listening session was a big pivotal moment in kind of our engagement and partnership.
Cameron Peters: At the core of this research project was collaboration to learn about and enhance a South Florida community’s resilience. By creating space for both an overview of the study and community member voices and stories, the Listening Session became the foundation for the workshop and the work of relationship building between the community and researchers. From here, the study took off.
By September 2019, twenty community members were divided into two Outreach Teams, each with a Team Lead. Bridget trained each group on how to administer surveys to fellow community members.
Throughout October, team members were responsible for recruiting voluntary community survey takers at community meetings and events. Participants were asked to fill out a customized resilience survey with questions like, “How would you rate your level of attachment to the Estates of Fort Lauderdale.”
Each question could be directly related to varying dimensions of resilience such as a person’s preparedness and response actions to hazards as well as community accessibility, mobility, social capital, and communication.
From the beginning, this on-the-ground research collection offered a unique perspective.
Bridget Huston: From day one, I think the connectedness of the community and kind of the love for the community was super contagious. I just think that, you know, I felt their love. I felt their, you know, desire to protect their community and their neighbors. And that was just a really nice kind of essence to have for this project. It kind of leaked through a lot of different avenues of the project, even when maybe we weren't focusing on social capital or, you know, community connectedness or communication, like even things like mobility and infrastructure kind of, you know, circled back to this sense of, you know, community and social capital and all of those things.
Cameron Peters: For Leslie, this connection and care for neighbors, and their ability to help each other in a wide variety of situations, is what he considers the community's biggest strength.
Leslie Kevles: The fact that there are so many people here that you can talk to the right person if there's an issue. I know a couple of air conditioning people in here. If I had a question, I could ask them. We're not friends, but I can ask them. I have a guy a couple of doors away who's a retired electrician, and he has helped me on occasion when I needed help with something like that. Normally I'm the guy who does the fixing. When people's washers or dryers break, I'll go over there. I don't charge them to fix anything. I can usually fix it without parts, and if it needs parts, then they pay for the parts. I don't charge them labor or anything like that. I mean, I don't think that's what neighbors do. I wanna be able to ask them for a favor without worrying about would they help me because I charged them for something. I wouldn't do that. But there's always somebody to talk to, to ask a question whether it's political, health-wise.
Cameron Peters: These are critical relationships, ones that are made visible when documented in a neighborhood-level assessment. Through this additional layer of information, Bridget was able to collect community-level attributes and processes of resilience, allowing her to produce a dynamic understanding of the Estates of Fort Lauderale’s resilience story.
A key aspect of the study that enabled this to happen was having community research teams lead the data collection process. This was a dramatic shift in typical research design, encouraging greater buy-in from the entire community and also leading to community capacity building.
As data was collected by the community research teams, Bridget found herself observing the Estates of Fort Lauderdale’s strong sense of connection and communication in the structures, networks, and everyday interactions occurring in front of her. Factors that enhance resilience.
Bridget Huston: The community itself has a monthly community newsletter. We got to see an example of the newsletter the first day that we went there. That's something they're super proud of and actually flipping through it, it was really awesome. You know, it detailed the major events happening, not only in their community, but the city, you know, special events, different governmental events, kind of just keeping people in the know. It shared resources and contacts.
I mean, it was hard to get them to, you know, focus when we were in session, just because they all just love talking to each other and sharing stories and talking about what they did yesterday, or, you know, just like normal friendship banter. And it was really fun to see because although most of the community is kind of on the older side, there is some variation in age and that kind of just went out the window when we were at these sessions. Everyone was talking to everyone and it, you know, they seemed very familiar with each other. It wasn't like they only see each other once a month and they're catching up. It's like they walk to the meeting together and, you know, that was really cool and special to see.
Cameron Peters: These are important elements of community resilience exemplified in everyday routines and relationships, one’s that can be especially vital in moments of change or hardship.
Bridget Huston: So, you know, you could just tell that they were there to not only protect their homes and, you know, the community centers and other different areas in the community, but to protect their neighbors and their friends, and just, you know, work as a team. And that was evident from day one. And I think that was super pivotal and essential in their resilience story throughout, you know, all of the different elements and threads of their story.
Cameron Peters: What Bridget was witnessing in the community listening sessions, training sessions, in the newsletter, and mailroom were networks of resilience not directly described by the census data driven vulnerability indices initially calculated. While the initial Census-driven vulnerability score was classified as ‘high’, this categorization didn’t seem to be revealing the full texture of the Estates of Fort Lauderdale's resilience story, specifically the lived experiences of community members on the ground.
After community members collected surveys from 100 households under the direction of Bridget, Jan, and Dr. Polsky, Bridget began to analyze the information. She started by building a composite resilience score, an average of all the household surveys. Then, she began examining the relationship between different dimensions of resilience. For example, in general, greater social capital was associated with higher communication within the community. This was expected based on their interactions with the community. More surprisingly, greater infrastructure, such as community installation of hurricane shutters, led to greater weather related knowledge.
Bridget Huston: And so I think that that really brought a different perspective and a different value to this project that could be provided by those kind of more broad community assessments. So like BRIC and SOVI, you don't really get that, you know, view or that lens into a community. And what's at the heart of the community and the people and their networks. And I think that was such a foundation to this project.
Cameron Peters: The analysis of survey responses provided insight into community strengths and existing forms of resilience, revealing that the Estates Community is less vulnerable than the Census data-driven approach might suggest.
In addition, by studying how different dimensions and factors of resilience interact, Bridget was able to identify areas where the Estates of Fort Lauderdale can increase resilience. Again, the seven major resilience dimensions highlighted within this study, include communication, knowledge, social capital, mobility, infrastructure, institutional efforts and financial independence. These dimensions reveal complex storylines that exist within the community. This shows how the processes of resilience go beyond what census data can provide.
In both the typical Census-driven assessments and the CES study, 'social capital' (referred to as ‘community” capital via BRIC) is assumed to be an important resilience dimension. But the CES study presents a refined and tailored measure of 'social capital,' and incorporates richer measurements such as the frequency of involvement in community events, types of social activities and in person interactions and lengths of residency. By contrast, the Census-driven assessments operationalize ‘community capital’ simply as 'place attachment” and “involvement in civic, religious and disaster organizations”.
This information is important because it guides the necessary support from government and other stakeholders. When these Census based tools were used to map the vulnerability of Broward County, the Estates of Fort Lauderdale was depicted between moderate and high vulnerability.
Bridget Huston: When we're bringing it back to the community we were able to really identify areas of strength within the community and then areas that potentially could use improvement. So things like making sure everyone's evacuating correctly and efficiently and making kind of a network of the resources available within the community. So, you know, not a lot of community members are using backup energy modes or safeguards for their home. Some of them don't really know a lot about flooding and have the knowledge of that and how that will impact them. So, you know, those were kind of areas that we could see them trying to improve on. Overall they did rank a 0.6 on a scale of zero to one for resilience, one being the most resilience. And so that's actually pretty great, you know, it's above that midpoint and these strengths that we identified specifically can really be kind of capitalized on. So, you know, that communication and connectedness to kind of fill in those areas for improvement and kind of, you know, propel them in the right direction to become more resilient in the future and in the years to come.
Cameron Peters: Understanding a community's resilience and developing actionable and highly personalized ways to improve are especially critical as we face an increasingly changing climate.
Leslie Kevles: Yes, I am a strong believer in climate change, and I see it happening. I'm not a puppy, I've been around for a little while, and I've seen everything. And the temperatures are getting warmer, the rains are becoming more frequent, with more density. I just see the air quality being poor, and I think that we are responsible. It's too bad that some people in government just don't see it, I don't know why they don't see it. I believe in the scientists and before too long, we're gonna have to do something or our great grandchildren are not gonna have air to breathe, they'll have to go outside with respirators on in order to breathe the air. Things are changing, I see weather is becoming more intense, and every year I see a little bit more.
Cameron Peters: For Leslie, the study offered him additional awareness.
Leslie Kevles: But I think I thought about it more, I thought about what am I missing? Maybe I wouldn't have done that in the past, and I think the resiliency program may have made me more aware of my surroundings and my own responsibilities to me.
Cameron Peters: How does this study expand our understanding of community resilience?
When looking at the survey responses, three new patterns emerged.
First, having a strong connection to one’s community and their home in that community encourages residents to share information about the weather. Specifically, survey submissions showed that respondents with strong attachment to their community engage in a greater number of preparedness and response experiences, including safeguarding one’s home with shutters.
Second, limited experiences and skills are associated with reduced preparedness and response actions.
And, finally, greater preparedness and response actions were surprisingly related to lower self-reported evacuation than expected.
Such findings help us understand the complexity of hazard preparedness, response, and overall community resilience. By learning about the intricate web of community networks, structures, connections, and decisions, we are able to better understand the Estates community resilience story.
Bridget Huston: So this study really helps to provide a richer representation of the lived experiences and capabilities of local citizens...So there's this huge kind of tapestry of interconnectedness between the different variables and compositions of an area. So I think that my study really allowed that to kind of come to light and we were able to kind of pinpoint what that looks like at this really local level, which can be, you know replicated for other communities and even more so, I think that the results from this study have proven to be a bit more policy and program actionable than results such as low or high resilience...
Cameron Peters: This research is exciting because after conducting highly localized studies with communities, we can then zoom back out with a possibly more complex and complete picture of resilience. Dr. Colin Polsky, CES Director and Professor, notes that this transition in scale offers research potential.
Dr. Colin Polsky: Here in the U.S. you know, just looking in the Gulf coast, for example, Florida shares a kind of social economic, political, and geographic and environmental context with a large piece of real estate that goes all the way from Florida to Texas. And, you know, there's been a good number of hurricanes that have come barreling through this Gulf region since obviously hurricane Andrew, but certainly even just the time period since Katrina in 2005. And so the work that we're doing, that we did and hope to be replicating from the Estates is not a lot different from a bunch of the projects that have been undertaken say in new Orleans post Katrina or in starting to come out now or some studies about what happened, how people coped or didn't in Houston following hurricane Harvey, similar I think we'll find studies soon that are again, kind of local community based in Puerto Rico, following hurricane Maria. And then the list goes on. There's Michael that blew through North Florida. And then Sally, that just came through as well. So there's this kind of growing library of similar in spirit and nature community neighborhood level studies that are emerging. And what would be good to do that hasn't been done is to kind of put all of those into one big soup bowl and store them together and see if we can learn anything in common.
Cameron Peters: Even though the initial study has concluded, the relationship between CES and the Estates of Fort Lauderdale is ongoing. In Fall 2020, FAU held a Community Resilience Photo Documentary Workshop, a four-part series that provided an opportunity for Estates residents to share their perspectives and tell their climate resiliency stories. Through a series of workshops and photo assignments, participants provided glimpses into their everyday lives and their journeys through a changing climate. A culminating photo story was shared with the community this March.
And this brings us to the wider value of collaborative, placed-based research.
Dr. Colin Polsky: Well, we really like to replicate the effort that we did in the Estates elsewhere in Broward County. And we'd also like to continue our relationship with the people in the Estates development as well. And there's kind of two goals here. One is to try and learn from a scholarly perspective, what are some of the granular explanations for how resilience gets produced or not? And that has some kind of intrinsic value for building on the knowledge base. It's also potentially of instrumental value for policy. But then there's a secondary motivation, and that is simply by engaging with people in this way. There's an awareness raising that happens and a visibility raising that happens about the topics in general. So through the awareness raising, we observe people are having conversations more about these topics which if nothing else gives them the kind of boost that they may have needed to feel ready to tackle these topics, because there's not easy answers to some of them and the topic is kind of scary. And so it's easy to ignore. I'm kind of hoping that the flood or the wind event won't happen. So by asking people to have these conversations for the research purposes, I think gets them to have the conversations outside of the research purposes, which should help them be more prepared.
Cameron Peters: In a changing climate, being able to assess and map a community's resilience is key to more effective hazard preparation and response.
Through research that recognizes not just the physical hazards or social demographics, but also the people and their strengths, challenges, complex interactions, and social networks, a more complete resilience story can be formed. And, with it, deeper environmental hazards awareness, response, and resiliency.
Home and High Water is produced, edited, and hosted by Cameron Peters. Additional script editing by Bridget Huston. Music and Sound Design by Miles Shebar. This episode was engineered by Andrew Perelman. Theme music by Shane Wells. Special thanks to Jan Booher, Leslie Kevles, CES Director and FAU Professor Dr. Colin Polsky, and CES Research Coordinator Kimberly Vardeman.