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Economics & Empathy - Disaster Recovery

I've been infatuated with disaster recovery for quite some time. I've spoken to numerous survivors - gathering their stories in part with the Field Innovation Team. I've spoken with responders, contractors and funding agencies. I've analyzed the nature of neighborhood and whole community recovery through numerous events. I've even presented to gatherings of fellow emergency managers on building resilience that may lead to a more rapid recovery.

And I've noticed something - recovery, the successful kind, is an artful blend of economics and empathy.

Yes, a community needs financial support, information and an opportunity to meet their fundamental survival needs. But beyond that, in order to engage their own resilience, a community struck by disaster needs empathy. An understanding that, growth, safety and trust begins when, and only when, an ability to comprehend their own needs and a willingness to meet them exists.

Governments long to build resilience, to listen to community, to support and grow community capacity to meet their own needs. But I've yet to see a successful example of that philosophy instigated in a community. Government rarely listens and even more rarely asks communities to share what recovery means to them. We have a tendency to send the well-meaning among us out to communities to gather information, but those representatives are under-equipped and often speak more than they listen to those they aim to support.

Emergency Managers say - the goal of recovery is to "build it back, better" but what does that mean to the communities which they serve? Better means something different to every neighborhood, business district and non-governmental support capability. The under-served in one neighborhood will respond differently to disaster than a similar, but different neighborhood, despite having similar capacity to withstand trauma. No two people and thus no two neighborhoods are the same. Therefore, the very nature of recovery must be sought from those directly impacted by the decisions made on their behalf. 

It must be sought in empathetic, systematic, deliberate ways. By humans (and technology) eager to learn and less eager to disseminate the "solutions" their employers offer. A story must be shared and equally told by connecting with the needs, capabilities and desires of a community to build their own future.

For it is their future that will rebuild our community.

Limited Edition Prints Available

I've taken five of my favorite 100 Days of Civic Valley images and made them available for limited edition purchase.

Here are the details -

  • 10 prints of each image are available
  • Prints are archival quality, giclee prints and measure 16 x 16
  • Frames are not available at this time

In the near future I'd like to create a book of this project - those who purchase prints will get first dibs on that opportunity. If you know of a photo from the 100 Days of Civic Valley project that you can't live without - let me know - I'm happy to make something special just for you!

Alicia JohnsonComment
UPDATE: #100DaysofCivicValley

For the last few weeks, I've taken a break from my 100 Day Project - #100DaysofCivicValley. If the truth is told, I found myself a bit overwhelmed with the project.

I've worked in the Hayes Valley/Civic Center neighborhood for nearly five years. What I found by beginning #100DaysofCivicValley was how tolerant I had become about what I saw (and what I didn't) on the streets of San Francisco. That realization of acceptance was distressing. Yes, of course we can say my hiatus was because of my wedding and my spending time with family - but we should be honest - I felt bad about what I was seeing.

Seeing trauma, grime, fear, craziness, opulence, hip-ness and wealth mingle together in such obliviousness was really prodding me to see beyond the random street shot.

And that's why I've decided to begin again. Because that's what photography (street or otherwise) is supposed to do - grab your heart, break it open and compel you to act. It should bring each of us just an inch closer to each other and show us that we are more alike than different. Great art prepares our hearts, minds and souls for growth.

So here's to a few more days of CivicValley (71 to be exact) and revealing more of the neighborhood and life of San Francisco.