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Urban Systems during Disasters: Factors for Resilience

Deborah Wallace, Consumers Union
Rodrick Wallace, The New York State Psychiatric Institute


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Urban neighborhoods form the basic functional unit of municipalities. Socioeconomically, they consist of social networks and interlocking layers of social networks. Old, stable neighborhoods are blessed with large social networks and dense interlocking layers. Both social control and social support depend on these complex structures of tight and loose ties. Public health and public order depend on these structures. They are the basis of resilience of both the neighborhood itself and of the municipality that is composed of neighborhoods. In New York City in the 1970s and later, domain shift occurred because of the disruption of the socioeconomic structure by the massive destruction of low-rental housing. A combined epidemic of building fires and landlord abandonment of buildings leveled a huge percentage of housing in poor neighborhoods and forced mass migration between neighborhoods. Social relationships that had existed between families and individuals for decades were destroyed. Community efficacy also greatly diminished. Drug use, violent crime, tuberculosis, and low-weight births were among the many public health and public order problems that soared in incidence consequent to the unraveling of the communities. These problems spilled out into the metropolitan region of dependent suburban counties. The ability of a municipality and its dependent suburban counties to weather a disaster such as an avian flu pandemic depends on the size of social networks in its neighborhoods and on the interconnection between the social networks. Diversity such as gained by social and economic integration influences the strength of the loose ties between social networks. Poor neighborhoods with extreme resilience conferred by a dense fabric of social networks must also maintain connections with mainstream political structure or they will fail to react to both good and bad impacts and communications.

Key words

resilience; social network; urban system

Copyright © 2008 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087