By Maggie Davis
With back-to-back record setting hurricanes Harvey and Irma, there is no mistaking it: climate change is real, and it’s here. Our fellow Americans and others living in or visiting the Caribbean and along the Gulf coast now face the massive task of recovering and rebuilding.
In rebuilding, community and governmental leaders should make every effort to “build back better” to replace the destroyed damaged infrastructure with new materials better equipped to withstand the storms our changing climate is making more intense and more damaging.
The ability for a community to come back better from a disaster — weather related or otherwise — is directly tied to the investments a community makes well before a disaster. In the urgency of rebuilding from an immediate disaster, it is incredibly difficult for a community to identify and implement new design or technology when rebuilding.
Instead, community resilience requires us to be proactive, adaptable and diverse in our investments so we can withstand the next weather-related disaster as well as other adverse events.
Proactive. Arlington leaders have proactively addressed environmental concerns in planning. From its 2013 Clean Energy Plan to lower greenhouse gas emissions to improving road intersections to make transit easier for bicyclists and pedestrians, Arlington is making a concerted effort to curb climate change.
But an even larger part of community resilience is proactively addressing the needs of our residents’ ability to thrive. This includes addressing systemic issues that are more difficult for residents to sustain through a disaster.
Resiliency in the face of an adverse community event — whether it is a hurricane, a terrorist attack like the one we experienced on 9/11, or an economic crisis — often depends on the overall stability in a person’s life as well as access to resources a person has before that event.
If it is difficult for community members to make ends meet during the best of times, it highly likely that a disaster would set them back even farther. This is why we need to proactively address long-term underlying issues such as low and stagnant wages and housing affordability.
Adaptable. In building a more resilient Arlington, we must be willing to adapt to changing times. This includes both general policy and the underlying reality that to invest in the future the county needs to have revenue to invest.
Arlington has struggled with a large commercial vacancy rate for at least the last five years, and in an era where many jobs can be completed with a laptop and a wifi connection many companies are increasing productivity while decreasing the physical space need to operate.
Moving forward, the county should critically examine the current vacancies and continue to pursue flexibility in how certain vacant or nearly-vacant are used. By being more flexible, we may be able to lower the commercial vacancy rate and increase tax revenues to further invest in the community.
Diverse. Arlington needs a diversity of skills, abilities, and resources to grow and thrive in these tumultuous times. In recent years the county has done a good job at diversifying our underlying economy, with the Nestle Corporation moving its headquarters to Rosslyn and the county’s intention to entice Amazon to open its second headquarters here, Arlington is moving toward an economy somewhat less reliant on federal agencies, workers and contractors even while remaining competitive in the federal space given Arlington’s location next to the nation’s capital.
This economic diversity makes the County less susceptible to threats of federal budget cuts and government shutdowns. It also provides a workforce with a greater diversity of skills by drawing in tech entrepreneurs, engineers, marketers, artists and more alongside the many bureaucrats, lawyers, and policy makers who have called Arlington home for years.
In sum, emergencies can come in many forms and without advance warning. Arlington is known and respected for its planning. We are more resilient than many communities for that reason. But waiting for emergencies to create sufficient resiliency is a mistake. That is why it is important to be proactive and adaptable while diversifying our skills, abilities and resources.
Maggie Davis is President of the Arlington Young Democrats. She lives in the Radnor Heights- Ft. Myer neighborhood and works as an emergency management law and policy analyst. This article originally appeared on the ArlNow.com website.