Playing the Scale: Redefining Community for a Resilient Future

Harriet Tregoning

Director of HUD’s Office of Economic Resilience

Traditionally, the word “community” conjures the notion of a small geographic area: a city block or small neighborhood, where you might enjoy a potluck at the local recreation center or get together with your neighbors to do an alley cleanup.

More and more, however, changes in the way we interact with one another—as well as our recognition of common interests—are redefining the term community into something that morphs those geographic boundaries. These days, we are just as likely to think of our online communities the same as we are about our next door neighbors when we consider those who share common characteristics and have mutual interests. Likewise, when addressing the community-scale challenges of the 21st century, we are not bound by the solutions discovered in our own zip code.

To build resilient communities—to prepare for climate change, to make critical infrastructure decisions, and to establish new physical and business models—we must plan, develop, and invest at different scales and, often, outside our neighborhood or jurisdictional boundaries.

Not only do we have the ability to use the strengths and tools developed in communities to effect change at different scales, but we also have the obligation to do so. Many of the fundamental building blocks for a healthy and resilient community—reliable transportation, a clean and dependable energy supply, healthy schools, healthy and affordable housing, robust opportunities for employment and economic development—can’t be tackled by one zip code or census block at a time and operate at a regional scale.

At the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Economic Resilience, we are working with communities and regions around the country to find new ways to apply the criteria of sustainability, health, and resilience in public investments and apply those decisions across city, county, and even state lines. By replicating successes at scale, we will not only be able to leverage strategies to conserve resources, but also will better prepare ourselves for future challenges. HUD will also be a step closer to succeeding in its mission of creating strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all.

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) continues to be a critical voice and resource for how green and healthy physical development is core to the concept of resilient communities. Their Center for Green Schools is transforming the places where we learn; and empowering children, scholars, and teachers to act as community and environmental stewards. Their Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system provides a toolkit and a blueprint for building and maintaining sustainable buildings, and LEED for Neighborhood Development program looks beyond individual buildings to green neighborhoods, measuring everything from walkability to green infrastructure.

USGBC’s solutions for healthy and resilient communities work at different scales—from a single shop at the town center to an entire neighborhood, which provides many entry points, tools, and resources for communities wherever they are along their journey to sustainability and resiliency.

It is harder to cross property, neighborhood, and jurisdictional boundaries to address the critical issues that confront us, but we find we must match our approach to the scale of the problem. Together, our collective efforts can transform our communities—whatever their scale—into more vibrant, diverse, economically competitive, and resilient places.


Harriet Tregoning