Contents of Fall 2005 Collaborative Solutions Newsletter:

Special Issue: Hurricane Katrina and Community Building

In this issue:

Community Building Responses in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina
        Levels of community building intervention
        Principles to guide community-development work
        The bigger picture

One model community building model to apply – Healthy Communities

What others are saying


       In this series of newsletters, we are covering the six components of collaborative solutions one at a time. The scheduled topic for this issue was the third component, Practice democracy and promote active citizenship and empowerment.
      Recent storm-related events along the Gulf Coast give us an opportunity to examine a major set of issues where collaborative solutions applied now could have far-reaching results for many people over many years. Practicing democracy is critical to these discussions. In the next issue, we’ll return to dealing directly with component three.
      For the moment, we have an outstanding opportunity to discuss widespread application of collaborative-solutions techniques. We hope you enjoy the vision embodied in this special issue and will find ways to put it to work.

Community-Building Responses in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina

       The recent storms in the Gulf area have produced tragedy on many levels. Yet in the aftermath, we also discover many possibilities to apply community-building and community-development approaches to situations that the nation—not only the affected region—now faces.
       Will we take this occasion to employ community-building processes as we rebuild and recover, or will we again march down less effective, but well-worn, paths?
      If we do take a community-based approach to repairing the storm damage and to improving our disaster-response systems, we need to base our actions on the practice of democracy. This means we need to engage the people who are most affected by the issue in fair and open processes that lead to decisions that come from the people.
      We’ll discuss the community-based options with regard to Hurricane Katrina. This situation offers one large example, currently at the front of our awareness. As we cover the points, you will undoubtedly think of many other situations that would benefit from similar community-based problem-solving.

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I. Levels of community-building intervention

      There are at least three arenas in which we can consider community-development approaches to the disasters set in motion by Hurricane Katrina.

    1. Assisting displaced people and the communities to which they have now moved. Communities all across the United States have embraced large numbers of evacuees who have experienced enormous losses. Both the people who had to flee the Gulf and the communities that are welcoming them need help on many levels. At the very least, the receiving communities must build social environments and systems that will allow them to successfully adjust to this major change in a way that respects the needs of the established community and of its new members.

    2. Planning and rebuilding destroyed cities and towns along the Gulf. There is no question that the cities and towns on the Gulf will be rebuilt. But how will they be rebuilt? And, perhaps more importantly, who will determine the process and the outcomes? The most likely scenario is that the previously existing political and economic powers will design and rebuild the communities, replicating the social problems (including economic and racial separation and injustice) that were in place before the hurricane. Those social problems contributed to difficulties in dealing with the disaster. In addition, the odds seem high that New Orleans may become more like Disneyland than a renewed embodiment of the city that it was, rich in history and diversity. Can we imagine an alternative method of designing and rebuilding? Instead of the traditional patch-’em-up approach, can we envision a deep and community-wide process, driven by residents from all parts of the community, including those who are poor and black? If we can, we can see an amazing opportunity to build, from the ground up, model cities and towns that represent the multicultural nation that America has become. If we build democratically, we can live democratically.

    3. Developing community based approaches to planning for future disasters. Events like Hurricane Katrina remind us of the need for communities to plan for dealing with disasters. We suggest that community-building approaches are the most effective way to get plans in place that will work when they need to. In response to Y2K and 9/11, some communities developed neighborhood-based systems for the dissemination of essential information during times of crisis. E-mail chatter following Katrina described processes in Cuba, where community-based planning makes it possible to evacuate millions of people in a cooperative fashion. We should be able to do at least as well here.

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II. Principles to guide community-development work

       In all these situations, our work must be guided by the well-documented principles of community building. We must ask that our leaders adopt these principles as the basis for their work in the affected areas, both near the Gulf and farther afield:

    1. Incorporate those directly affected at the heart of dialogue and community building. All the people of New Orleans and of the other cities and towns affected by the storm and its dislocations must be part of crafting the solutions.

    2. Engage the full spectrum of the community. We must create and utilize new modalities for involving all sectors of each community and all of its people in developing and implementing a common vision.

    3. Value racial and cultural diversity as the foundation of wholeness. We must embrace the great diversity of these communities as their richness. This is most palpable in New Orleans, where the blues music that tourists enjoy arises from the rich gumbo of the city’s heritage.

    4. Practice democracy by promoting active citizenship and empowerment. This is a grand occasion to employ every technique we know, and to create new methods, to fully engage everyone involved in the process of designing the future of the cities and towns. We need to pay special attention to those who have not been engaged in democratic processes before.

    5. Promote collaboration among all parties and sectors. We define collaboration as “enhancing the capacity of the other.” The initial responses to the disaster in New Orleans underlined the inability of local, state, and federal entities—both public and private—to communicate and collaborate. It became obvious that we have a long way to go before the local neighborhoods and the city, state, and federal governments truly collaborate.

    6. Build on community strengths and assets. As we see the damage that Hurricane Katrina has done, we can take one of two views of the people in the Gulf communities. We can see them as being in need of charity and help, or we can see them as amazingly resilient and strong. When we build on the people’s strengths and assets, the solutions that we all devise together will be sturdier and more effective.

    7. Create a shared vision. We seem to have as many visions of the future of these communities as we have people talking about what might happen. We need to create community processes through which local visions can be articulated and through which rebuilding can move toward those visions.

    8. Ensure access, and remove obstacles, to fundamental and equal opportunities. We need to create communities where equal opportunity is part of the fabric of life, and we need processes that ensure that everyone has access to that opportunity.

    9. Address issues of social change and power. The changes that will make these Gulf communities healthy will require significant social change and shifts in power.

    10. Align the goals with the process. Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” We can work to create community-building processes that respect differences, incorporate caring for each other, and embody the high hopes of communities throughout

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III. The bigger picture

       As in all situations, it is best to understand a problem before we leap to a search for solutions. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, this involves understanding the larger forces that have contributed to this disaster and addressing these in addition to the immediate needs.
These larger issues include:

    • Global environmental policies that lead to environmental degradation and global warming. There is much research that has shown that these factors create the conditions conducive to unstable weather disasters like Katrina.

    • Global and national economic policies that separate rich and poor. The nation and the world had a rare view of American poverty in New Orleans. Paying for the Katrina disaster must be done through policies that reduce economic disparities, instead of exacerbating them. For example, one method of generating dollars to pay for reconstruction involves reducing programs for the poor and middle-class; the people most dramatically affected by the storm. Another method requires increasing the national debt, for which our children will need to pay in the future. A third method, the only one that does not make the situation worse for those most affected by the disaster, is to immediately rescind tax breaks for the very rich.

    • The long and continuing history of racism in America. Hurricane Katrina has created a window of opportunity that can be used to initiate dialogue, reconciliation, and action to eliminate racism within the American culture and the American economy.

    • Refocusing on the allocation of our resources. Because of decisions about allocation of our national resources, our economy was under severe stress before the storm hit. Many of the people who could have been deployed to assist people in the Gulf region, and helicopters that might have rescued families in Louisiana, were overseas. We were overextended and we were not able to take care of our own people in their own country.

    • Our chronic inability to work in a cooperative and collaborative manner at (and across) local, regional, national, and international levels. In recent years, we have been presented with opportunities to see how our systems do not work; these include Hurricane Katrina and 9/11. We have the technology. We have the intelligence. We have the democratic ideals and history. We need to move forward, together.

IV. Community-building approaches to Hurricane Katrina’s effects

        Hurricane Katrina offers us an opportunity to address the great pain of the people from these communities and of the nation through community-building approaches. Our efforts in this direction would not only assist those in need. It would also provide a broadly different vision of community in America.
       There are many approaches to community-building that could be brought to bear in the situations caused by Hurricane Katrina. Some can be applied in individual communities. Yet community-building has not previously been conceived as applicable to social problems as large as those created by the hurricane.
        One applicable community-building model is the World Health Organization’s Healthy Communities approach. This approach engages the whole community in an ongoing community building process that builds on the community’s strengths. The associated concepts and program offer many positive ideas and experiences and can be used as a foundation for work in rebuilding after Katrina. (See below for more details)
       We hope that some of the major foundations may take this opportunity to gather people involved in many different approaches to community-building and discover ways to maximize existing resources throughout the Gulf communities and also in the distant towns and cities that are opening their homes to evacuees.
        The United States has enormous problems as a result of this storm season. As a country, we also have an enormous opportunity. Hurricane Katrina offers us an opportunity to address the great pain of the people from these communities and of the nation through a community building and community development approaches. This would not only assist these communities but provide a different vision of community in America

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One Community Building Model to Apply to Katrina – Healthy Communities

       A healthy community is defined as one that provides peace, shelter, education, food, income, a stable ecosystem, sustainable resources, social justice, and equity. These are admirable goals at any time, but especially pertinent to post-Katrina community development. There are successful working models of healthy communities across the United States and around the world. The principles and processes that lead to success are known and can be duplicated in communities along the Gulf.

The core components of healthy communities include:

    • Creating a compelling vision from shared values

    • Embracing a broad definition of health and well-being

    • Addressing quality of life for everyone

    • Engaging diverse citizen participation, and being citizen-driven

    • Multisectoral membership and widespread community ownership

    • Acknowledging the social determinants of health and the interrelationship between health and other issues (housing, education, peace, equity, social justice)

    • Addressing issues through collaborative problem-solving

    • Focusing on systems change

    • Building capacity by using local assets and resources

    • Measuring and benchmarking progress toward outcomes   

      On the positive side, the healthy communities model has a goal of engaging all the sectors and all the people in a community to develop a common vision and then to seek solutions. This approach has a good track record in many communities, and is increasingly able to use benchmarking and indicators to track progress.
    On the downside, this approach has often been unsuccessful in practice at engaging those most affected, those with the least power, and those who are economically and racially disenfranchised. These shortcomings would be unacceptable in addressing the situation in the Gulf.

Resources on Healthy Communities:

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What others are saying -Quotes from the press and the web:


        ACORN members are turning sadness and anger into action, organizing a campaign for a just and comprehensive recovery program that provides living-wage jobs and first-source hiring for survivors and residents, affordable housing, and right of return for those dislocated and public services that allow families to live in a safer and fairer community.

Senator Ted Kennedy

        “ What I heard over and over on my visit [to the affected areas] is that local people want a voice in their own future. They don't want big outside companies with political connections to call the shots.

        “ Bringing everyone around a common table is the only realistic way to enable the nation to come together and support the people of the Gulf Coast with worthwhile jobs in the modern economy, and to provide opportunity and hope that are so urgently needed.”

Rick Cohen, Executive Director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy in the Non Profit Quarterly

       “ The people of the Gulf have a democratic right to have a say, a major say, in the reconstruction of the region. The first priority of the nonprofit sector, ostensibly motivated by the ideas of voluntary associations described by Alexis de Tocqueville, should be to fight tooth and nail for the democratic rights of the population of the Gulf. As the scenes in the Superdome and the New Orleans Convention Center demonstrated, much of the region’s population has long been disenfranchised through poverty and neglect. Rebuilding the local, community-based organizations that represent and potentially mobilize this population should be a core component hard-wired into the reconstruction process and plans.”

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David M. Chavis, Association for the Study and Development of Community:

We have set up a website that has information on community responses to Hurricane Katrina and will expand as Hurricane Rita's story unfolds. The Link is we are looking for more resources that can be used by communities both in the disaster area and those aiding evacuees and survivors.

John Green Ph.D., Delta State University, Cleveland, MI.:

A resource for people interested in conducting, applying and disseminating community based research to understand disasters and inform redevelopment.


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