Crime rate one indicator of resilient community

Editor’s Note: MAPP, Mobilizing for Action through Planning &Partnerships, is a local coalition that aims to use and build upon our strengths to improve our individual, family and community health. Health is defined broadly to include cultural, economic, educational, environmental, mental, physical and spiritual health.

In a small town, people tend to wear many different hats. I am no different. Though I am on the MAPP steering committee, I also coach debate at the high school and work for Homer Soil and Water. I like to geek out on brain science and social science, but I also love topics regarding sustainability and I put out a weekly email about events happening around town that highlight sustainability.

And to me these are all connected. All of these things address aspects of resiliency. When times are hard, how well do we handle it? How resilient are we? Whether working with students or farmers or health professionals, all these hats work on the same core topic: social capital.

Social capital is measured by connections. How connected is our community? These connections aren’t just “feel good” concepts of how at home you feel in your community, they are proven to determine a community’s ability to deal with disaster. Just Google Dr. Daniel Aldrich and you will find tons of information with headings like, “Social Capital in Post-Disaster Recovery” and “Building a Culture of Resilience in Post-Disaster Recovery.”

OK, so that’s not super exciting reading, so let me sum up. Dr. Aldrich has studied disasters all over the world from Hurricane Katrina to the Japanese tsunami. What was one of the best indicators as to how fast a neighborhood/community recovered from these disasters? How many solar panels they had? How much local food production they had?

The crime rate.

Communities with high crime rates have citizens who are afraid, right? Afraid of strangers, afraid to reach out, distrusting of each other. Every man for himself. Those communities suffered more deaths during the disaster and took longer to rebuild after the disaster. They were notably less resilient..

It’s all about social capital. If you know your neighbors and disaster strikes, you will help them get out. Less deaths. If you know your neighbors you can work together with them to rebuild when you come back. Quicker rebuild. You are a more resilient community.

Notice I use the word “neighbor,” not the word “friend.”

We often have a network of friends we can rely on. I have friends out East End Road, right in town, up on the Ridge, and all the way up the Sterling. This is a level of social capital within networks. It is wonderful, supportive, and important. We love these friends and they help us get through hard times.

But another kind of social capital that Dr. Aldrich is measuring is “bridging networks.” He is describing the kind of networks that bridge or connect all our networks together. These may not be our friends, but they are people we meet in groups like the PTA or a sports club or neighborhood committee. These connections bridge these like-minded friend groups and connect us to other, broader groups with different opinions, customs, and backgrounds.

These bridges are important social capital too. These groups test our compassion for others. We may get thrown into interactions that make us uncomfortable. We may have to deal with people who don’t agree with us or really even understand us.

This is a true test for community. How resilient are we? How compassionate are we to those in groups outside our tight friend circles? When disaster strikes, you don’t know who you will be standing next to. We need to be able to reach out a hand in any and all directions. That is what makes a truly healthy and strong community.

As a debate coach I love lively discussion with both sides represented. But in consideration of our community’s social capital, I measure the success of the debate by whether or not people can still get along after the debate has closed. The recent fiery city council meeting shows that debate is still quite alive in our community, but do we burn or build bridges with it?

How do we maintain compassion for each other, whether we agree or not? We need to figure this out. This level of social capital can be studied and reviewed as much as Dr. Aldrich wants, but science doesn’t tell us how to be loving, how to be considerate, how to be open minded. His science merely shows us that we can literally die if we don’t do it.

On March 17 from 6:30-8:30 p.m., join other community members at the Homer United Methodist Church to discuss “Practicing Compassion in Challenging Times.” Here we all will be able to discuss perspectives and exercises in compassion with Nancy Lee-Evans, Skywalker Payne, Anna Raupp, Bob Redmond, Tom Rush, Lisa Talbott and friends at this interfaith event. For more information call 907-235-8528.

We are a wonderful community. May we build bridges.

Kyra Wagner is the coordinator of Sustainable Homer and a member of the MAPP steering committee, among many other things.