Resilient Communities


Often the most challenging obstacle to land use planning is knowing where to begin. Using a diagnostic tool can help you understand your community’s strengths and areas for improvement, enabling you to prioritize how to best direct your energy and resources.


Resilient communities in a changing world and a changing Vermont

Vermont is a unique place, distinguished by its compact downtowns and villages, rolling farmlands, working forests, and a long-standing commitment to citizen engagement. The characteristics that make Vermont a great place to live are the result of thoughtful, forward-thinking decisions by past generations.

But keeping a place great takes work, especially in a rapidly-changing, highly-interconnected world. Vermont residents and local leaders are keenly aware that today’s challenges range from immediate to distant, and the amount of control we have over these challenges varies. Stretched budgets, economic uncertainty, scattered growth, energy insecurity, and climate change are just a few examples of the challenges that we face as we try to create or retain robust, resilient communities.

Fortunately, Vermont is well-positioned to tackle these challenges. Using our engaged citizenry, ingenuity, and respect for our natural resources, we can take steps to become a state that is robust and successful in the face of change.

What is resilience?

In the months and years after the 2011 floods, the word “resilience” has been everywhere – but what does it really mean? Resilience is the ability to withstand, respond, and adapt to challenges. Challenges can include anything that makes a community vulnerable, from natural disasters to economic, social, and political upheaval. A resilient community thinks long term and is able to reorganize and renew itself, ideally in ways that put it in a stronger position than before the shock.

People are key to a resilient community because the social connections built during stable times boost a community’s ability to respond more effectively and efficiently when challenges arise. Resilience, then, is more than just planning for flooding, drought, and ice storms: it’s making decisions that help prepare us for change while keeping our economy, environment, and communities strong.

Why is resilience important today?

The need for community resilience is more important than ever because of the issues we face – issues that stand to affect the places we care about. But by tackling those challenges, we can do more than just cope: we can build stronger communities. By thinking about resilience, we can:

Promote the vitality of downtowns and villages: Where and how we grow affects not only our carbon and energy footprint, but also the vitality of downtowns and villages, the health of natural resources, and people’s well-being. Sprawling development consumes land, which can limit economic opportunities in farming and forestry, destroy wildlife habitat, threaten water quality, and strain budgets.

Address rising energy costs. The costs of fossil fuels may be out of our control, but we do have the ability to become more self-reliant by controlling how much energy we use and where and how it is generated.

Build community resilience. Towns have long dealt with the question of how to spend limited financial resources. Repeat damage from storms, and the burden of ever-increasing energy costs, will likely make it an even more urgent question in the future. 

Reduce transportation costs. Dispersed settlement patterns create high transportation costs – both money spent on fuel and road maintenance and the “cost” of climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions.

Improve public health. Scattered development can make walking, biking, and using transit difficult, creating a reliance on cars that limits daily physical activity.

Adapt to climate change. Scientists predict that the severity and frequency of events like the spring 2011 floods and Tropical Storm Irene will increase over time. Climate change will remain a problem that we’ll need to adapt to even as we try to find solutions.

Vermont communities can survive and thrive despite these challenges – with some forethought, planning, and action. Thinking broadly about what resilience means in your community is the first step towards taking actions that will provide long-term environmental, economic, and social benefits.

Related tools:

Resilient Communities Scorecard

Related case studies:

Smart Growth Scorecard-Waterbury