Three panelists spoke about the resilience of our local, national, and global habitats on a structural, interpersonal and societal level at the Building Resilience workshop.

Alex Wilson of Green Building Inc. paid special attention to the structural aspect of resilience and presented ideas about how to prepare infrastructure in a given community so that buildings can withstand natural disasters in a climate that is prone to variable weather, strong storm surges and deluges.

Wilson’s concept of resilience ranged from the physical tolerance of buildings to the re-structuring of space in a community in such a way that would soften our carbon footprints.

Wilson, who took an eight-month sabbatical to travel through the Southwest on bike and learn about the environment and it’s relationship with water (be it floods or draughts), presented some of the key factors in sustainable architecture, such as not building in a flood zone and using local materials. He presented the example of the New England Youth Threatre on Flat Street in Brattleboro which deploys 20 inch high aluminum panels in tracks across five doorways. Because of this extra step, the interior of the theatre was relatively unscathed when Hurricane Irene hit and flooded Flat Street last year.

Kate Stephenson, the executive director of a design-build school, Yestermorrow had the audience reconsider the phrase, “building resilience” where ‘building’ acts a verb and not a noun.

To Stephenson, one of the most important concepts of resilience in a community is re-skilling. Stephenson has noticed the recent desire for citizens of Brattleboro to know where their food comes from and how to cook it. Stephenson believes that a community can withstand and combat environmental changes more effectively by enabling people to create and repair their own communities internally.

At Yestermorrow, Stephenson holds workshops on basic plumbing and carpentry as well as more specialized skills.

“The word resilience isn’t left or right—it’s common sense,” said David Orr, a professor at Oberlin College and one of the nation’s leading thinkers in sustainability.

Orr re-emphasized the importance of the work both Wilson and Stephenson are doing. He asked the audience to think of these ideas on a societal level. To Orr, our nation has become so distant from stimulating the local economy and being self-skilled that now the concept seems novel.

“It wasn’t anything special; it was just how you lived,” he said. “ We’ve evicted ourselves from that paradise– this [state of the environment] is now a permanent thing”

Rachael Roth