Community Resilience in Rural Canada

1824 words | 6 page(s)

Theoretical Lens: Community Resilience

Community Resilience Theory. Over the past few years, numerous researchers have resorted to resilience theory to investigate a variety of psychological phenomena and issues. Zimmerman (2013), for example, used it to identify the factors that enable young individuals to develop into healthy adults despite adverse circumstances. As a framework that is primarily concerned with the strengths and assets that people demonstrate under high-risk conditions, resilience theory is usually employed to sociologists, psychologists, social workers and educators to help young people deal with significant stressors (VanBreda, 2001, p. 1). Resilience is defined as one’s ability to adapt to change, recover from unfavorable events and stay strong in the face of adversity (APA, 2017; Grohol, 2016; Ovans, 2015; Sideroff, 2015). As Braverman (2001, p. 2) noted, resilience is a broad concept that incorporates two main components, namely exposure to risk and demonstration of adaptation and competence.

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Similarly to individuals, communities are also affected by a wide range of stressors which may interfere with their ability to function properly (Norris et al., 2008). As Norris et al. (2008) observed, when communities manage to overcome adverse environmental phenomena, their adaptability is likely to result in higher standards of living, as well as mental and behavioral health. Within the field of community studies, resilience theory is commonly used to discuss socio-ecological sustainability (Walton et al., 2013). For example, Walton et al. (2013) investigated how residents of Chinchilla (a small town in southern Queensland, Australia) responded to the continuous social and economic changes caused by the growing coal gas industry within the community. Walton et al. (2013) concluded that “[d]evelopment of community resources and support services, and collaborative leadership” (p. 20) are key components that help the community to adapt the socio-ecological changes and develop resilience.

Similarly to Walton et al. (2013), Reams et al. (2013) used resilience theory to investigate the way in which residents of the upper Industrial Corridor of Louisiana responded to environmental hazards, and how their exposure-minimizing behaviors affected community resilience. The authors found that community resilience was affected by three main forces, namely exposure (to hazardous circumstances / stressors), vulnerability and adaptive capacity (Reams et al., 2013, pp. 107-108). In an attempt to illustrate the conceptual relationship between resilience, exposure, vulnerability and adaptive capacity, Reams et al. (2013) developed the following function:

Resilience= f(exposure, vulnerability, adaptive capacity);
where exposure refers to the kind and intensity of a certain hazard, vulnerability refers to the people or assets that may be damaged by the hazard, and adaptive capacity related to communities’ ability to adapt to varying risk levels as well as to the consequences of hazardous phenomena (Reams et al., 2013).

Over the past few years, many other academics and practitioners have attempted to provide an accurate enough definition of these terms. By exposure, researchers usually refer to communities’ likelihood to be disrupted by natural hazards, such as volcanic eruptions, cyclones and so forth (Diefenbach et al., 2015; United Nations, 2012). Vulnerability, on the other hand, is a slightly more complex concept that needs to be analyzed in relation to various factors. As Paton & Johnston (2001) observed, vulnerable groups (and communities) have always been defined in terms of demographic and economic characteristics, such as education level, ethnic / racial minority status, economic resources, social network access, rights and political status, to name but a few (p. 271). In view of their profound impact on communities’ ability to withstand adverse events, all of these factors need to be taken into consideration when assessing resilience. As explained by the Information Resources Management Association (2016, p. 1353), from a purely biological perspective adaptive capacity refers to an organism’s ability to adapt to environmental change. communities’ adaptive capacity depends on a range of political, social and economic factors, including health, assets, education, gender equality, access to resources and information and political participation (Information Resources Management Association, 2016, p. 1353). In view of these considerations, it can be inferred that knowledge, wealth and political involvement are among the main factors that affect communities’ resilience.

Reams et al.’s (2013) study revealed that residents’ familiarity with risk-reducing strategy tends to boost their confidence in their abilities to cope with hazardous circumstances, thus prompting them to implement exposure-reducing measures (Reams et al., 2013). This goes to show that knowledge – which is a major component of “adaptive capacity” – plays a key role in making communities more resilient.

According to Magis (2010), research has clearly demonstrated that communities can develop resilience by learning how to thrive in an ever-changing environment and acknowledging that community resilience is key to achieving social sustainability. Magis (2010) defines, community resilience as “the existence, development, and engagement of community resources by community members to thrive in an environment characterized by change, uncertainty, unpredictability, and surprise” (p. 401). Within the rural Canadian context, “a resilient community is one that takes intentional action to enhance the personal and collective capacity of its citizens and institutions to respond to, and influence the course of social and economic change” (The Canadian Centre for Community Renewal, 2000, p. 5).

These definitions clearly suggest that community resilience as a theoretical framework is meant to help communities overcome concurrent social, economic and environmental challenges by enhancing residents’ communal engagement and the collective capacity of community organizations by enhancing communal engagement and building collective capacity. Sullivan, Ryser & Halseth (2014) identify community capacity as “an ability of individuals and community service organizations to mobilize effective response to changing circumstances” (p. 222). Building community capacity is integral to the process of developing community resilience in rural areas (Magis, 2010).

Recreation and Community Resilience in Rural Canada. From a practical viewpoint, resilience theory has proved effective in helping practitioners identify new ways of minimizing the effects of adverse social and environmental phenomena – especially in rural areas. Overbaugh (2014) has been one of the first scholars to acknowledge the key role played by outdoor recreation in boosting community resilience. He believes that while most institutions do not see recreation as a reliable indicator of community well-being and health, numerus studies have clearly demonstrated that recreation services contribute greatly to helping communities adapt to inevitable change (Overbaugh, 2014). With regards to the relationship between resilience and recreation, Awotona (2016, p. 408) pointed out that one of the main problems with low-income communities whose lives are negatively affected by severe weather variability is that residents live in areas that are subject to flooding; the author suggests that such areas be converted into public spaces to serve as flood buffers, and that residents move to safer areas. In an attempt to investigate Canada’s rural restructure issues through the lens of community resilience and recreation, Oncescu (2014) found that recreation plays a vital role in developing community resilience in rural areas by cultivating communal cohesion and community capacity.

After evaluating the adverse impact of a community’s school closure on community resilience, Oncescu (2014) concluded that a “school’s community recreation activities and events strengthen community resilience potential through community togetherness, strong social networks, and community pride” (p. 46). After the school closure, residents felt the impact of school’s closure immediately by sensing comparative decline in communal bonding. Afterward, community leaders and the community residents collaboratively settled strategies to reconnect community residents. As part of one of the strategies, the community transformed the closed school to a community center. Despite losing a hub to organize recreation activities and events, Limerick’s community members were able to find an alternative hub to organize their recreation activities and events. Expansion in recreation facilities and services was made targeting all demographic in the community.

Community members named their new recreation hub as “Opportunity Centre”. In addition to the opportunity center, Limerick’s community church started offering recreation programs and events to the residents. As Oncescu (2014) reports, “After the school’s closure, the high school graduation no longer existed” (p. 45). The high school graduation ceremony was one of the events to bring all community members together including older adults. Although new opportunity center was offering extended recreation services to the community, but community members felt the necessity of graduation ceremony as they were missing large community get-togethers. From the concern of missing large get-togethers of all demographic groups, the community Church developed the graduation ceremony to celebrate the academic achievement of Limerick’s youth. New and extended recreational activities, events and social ceremonies benefited community residents to reunite and recuperate adversely impacted social bonding.

Adapting the community resiliency model developed by Kulig, Edge and Joyce (2008), Oncescu (2014) identifies that recreation has a significant contribution in strengthening social bonding and the sense of communal friendship that helped developing community resilience in Limerick. Oncescu (2014) concludes, through the process of relocating recreation hub and extending recreation services, community members of Limerick learned how to overcome emerged adversity in the community by utilizing local assets. Such practice of overcoming community challenges collectively through social engagement and developing required facilities to adapt the change, synergize with the mechanism of community resilience theory. As Richardson (2016) from NRPA pointed out, park and recreation agencies play an essential role in creating solid and inclusive communities that are capable of overcoming major disruptions; with extreme weather becoming increasingly frequent every year, it is crucial that institutions should help communities become more resilient so as to be able to minimize damage and losses, and achieve full economic recovery in a timely manner (Richardson, 2016). With regards to the many challenges facing rural communities, Caldwell (2015) noted that green infrastructure and recreational activities represent a highly effective way for rural communities to deal with inadequate public infrastructure, stagnant assessment bases, and adverse environmental phenomena as well as other issues. The authors argue that green spaces used for active and passive recreation can help build resilient rural communities by promoting residents’ well-being.

From the theoretical viewpoint of community resilience, Oncescu (2014) suggests a scope for future research on various aspects of rural restructuring in rural regions in Canada. There is a dearth in empirical publication that explains recreation in the context of concurrent restructuring in rural Manitoba from the theoretical lens of community resilience. Considering this empirical gap, this study will adapt the community resilience theory to develop a comprehensive understanding of the role of partnerships in recreation services delivery in rural Manitoba. Specifically, through the theoretical lens of community resilience, this study will explore how rural residents in Manitoba withstand current difficulties in recreation services delivery, how recreation reconnects residents in rural Manitoba, and what is the role of partnerships in the context of delivering recreation services in rural Manitoba.

  • APA (2017). The Road to Resilience. Retrieved from
  • Awotona, A. (2016). Planning for Community-based Disaster Resilience Worldwide: Learning
    from Case Studies in Six Continents. Oxon, UK: Taylor & Francis.
  • Braverman, M.T. (2001). Applying Resilience Theory to the Prevention of Adolescent Substance Abuse. Retrieved from http://4h.ucanr.edu
  • Caldwell, W.J. (2015). Planning for Rural Resilience: Coping with Climate Change and Energy Futures. Winnipeg, Canada: Univ. of Manitoba Press.
  • Diefenbach, A.K., Wood, J.N. & Ewert, J.W. (2015). Variations in community exposure to lahar hazards from multiple volcanoes in Washington State (USA). Journal of Applied Volcanology, 4(4).
    Retrieved from https://appliedvolc.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s13617-015-0024-z

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