A strong community always bounces back


Resilience is defined as "An ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change." (Merriam-Webster, 2013). For a city or region, misfortune or change can take many forms. Authors writing on resilience define the term in a context suited to specific types of threats. Some authors focus on planning and protection from the modern threats of terrorism and climate change, while others believes adopting a low-carbon economy is critical to resilience. But at a more general level, and more applicable to Hamilton, are the social and economic threats the city has dealt with over the decades, and how the city is continually changing to adapt to new socio-economic realities. Climate change and the low-carbon economy are certainly of concern as the next threats to resiliency, but what are the fundamental community strengths that make a city resilient?

Broadly, building resilience in communities to weather the coming socio-economic changes. "Resilience thinking" [98] is based the principles that:

• Human enterprise is inseparable from nature.
• Linked socio-ecosystems are constantly changing.
• Resilience is stability and resists undesirable external disturbances.
• Human demands must be modified to fit nature, not the other way around.
(Rees, 2010, p. 31)

Resilience eschews continuous economic growth. So for local economic development, resilience means maintaining a stable economic base to ensure a sustainable business environment and employment. Even under a sustainable model, business must continue to renew itself so new opportunities persist. To do this, there must be knowledge transfer and sharing ideas amongst communities, to learn from each other. Thus, building a sense of place, strong communities in this case, leads to more resiliency. Cities that are the healthiest and most successful have a strong sense of community, engaged and organized to protect neighbourhoods, social inclusion and public spaces. These are fundamental to maintaining a high quality of life and sense of pride to carry the community over the rough spots of economic, environmental and political transition.

Resilience is related to the ability to adapt, regardless of the challenge. But with adaptability comes change. Therefore, resilience should not be seen as an ability to return to a previous way of doing things after an economic shock. In the case of Hamilton, the mix of economic drivers and employment changes after each recession. Manufacturing declines each time as service sectors expand to fill the gap and eventually provide even greater economic diversity than before. Since the 1991, manufacturing as a proportion of overall employment declined by half (StatsCan, 2013).

Symbols of resiliency are also important to the community, to foster pride and the willingness to move forward, even if they do not generate many new jobs or provide substantial economic gains in and of themselves. The regional resilience story does not end through symbolic change, only through continuous, substantive change from within. The capability for regional resilience also relies upon a solid physical foundation of infrastructure, such as transportation networks and adequate utilities, and a location close to resources and markets.

Building blocks for resilience

What are the requirements for local resilience? The following list of requirements are applicable to Hamilton:

• A strong system of regional innovation;
• Strength in factors to create a learning region;
• Modern productive infrastructure;
• Skilled, innovative and entrepreneurial workforce;
• A supportive financial system providing 'patient capital';
• A diversified economic base, not over-reliant on a single industry.
[16](p. 6-7)

The authors qualify their list of factors with the notion "...regions make their own resilience, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past," [16](p. 7). This statement reinforces the importance of context-sensitivity in planning for resilience and sustainability. Strategies that work well elsewhere do not necessarily transplant successfully to other locations, due to the context-sensitive nature of how a city or region came to be, its geography, economy, infrastructure, environment, tourism potential and external influences. "Cities don't grow in a vacuum. Urbanism is conditioned by what came before, not only physically but also intellectually." [104](p. 9)

Linking back to place branding and marketing, the attributes that make a community resilient must be acknowledged, because these are the foundation on which to build the brand. A brand and marketing strategy from elsewhere will not transplant well to a new place because the conditions are different. Urban green tourism builds on local conditions and infrastructure that are already established in order to strengthen resiliency rather than invoke change through symbolic action.


Even though our generation has inherited cities with aging infrastructure and declining industrial districts, Hamilton has fared much better than many other post-industrial cities, particularly those in the northeastern United States, due to its existing conditions and the external influences of Toronto and provincial economic policy. Cities like Hamilton developed during the industrial era due to their strategic location close to markets and natural resources, which brought about advanced infrastructure, transportation networks, good ports and large labour pool. In the post-industrial era, these local characteristics no longer provide a competitive advantage because global supply chains have extended transportation links to manufacturing centres with lower wage rates.

The growth-oriented nature of Fordism calls for increasing efficiency in production, which in turn calls for larger factories to meet the demand of a growing and more consumptive population, either in the same market area or offshore where transport costs are offset by less expensive labour. This situation led to "the construction of a 'throughput' economy undermined regional distinctiveness and comparative advantage, opening more regional economies to precipitous downturns when consumption declined," [16](p. 6).

For these cities where Fordism came to life, innovation is obviously embedded in their past, but their spirit of innovation may become lost along the way through leakage to the suburbs and emerging global production centres far beyond the scope of regional influence. Old industrial cities can also be locked into old ways of thinking. Can an old city be taught new tricks?

Collective learning

Innovation alone will not solve economic problems unless it is part of a systematic, bottom-up policy that enables resilience through collective learning of and by the community. Considering all of the complexities in contemporary cities, including economic crisis, climate change and migration, "no actor, or set of actors, can have full knowledge or control," [30](p. 541).

Conceptions of a place by its residents and visitors also have an impact on local resilience. Through collective learning, by telling the story of a place, cognition and perception can change. As discussed in Canter's Psychology of Place [13], cognition can determine the desirability of a place. Environmental cognition and perception, or gaining knowledge and sense of one's surroundings, are shaped initially by prejudice. Through collective learning, attitudes can change as people become more familiar with the place and share their knowledge and perceptions with others.

Related Articles:

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Hamilton's Community Profile

The preceding is adapted from the academic research paper that accompanied the book, Hamilton: Brutal Beauty | Hidden Heritage - The making of a guidebook to the City of Hamilton as a practical exercise in context-sensitive place marketing and community economic development. (Dunlop, 2013)

© Copyright Ian Dunlop, University of Waterloo, 2013
Published by Strategic Interchange (Div. of Dun-Map Inc.)