In late 2009 the Pew Research Center asked a statistically valid sample of Americans, “whether or not they knew the names of the neighbors who live close to them and found that 19% said that they knew the names of all of their neighbors, and 24% said that they knew most of them. The remaining three-fifths of Americans know either some (29%) or none (28%) of their neighbors by name.”
To be sure you didn’t miss it: 28% of Americans do not know the names of any of their neighbors.
Many American communities are not whole. Many places where many Americans reside are not what is traditionally meant by “community.” In yesterday’s post Jessica wrote, “some communities are more about struggle than success and a Whole Community approach means little if there is little to nothing to build upon.”
The Pew Study highlights a meaningful correlation between economic well-being, educational attainment and social connectedness within residential areas.
It is worth noting that even among the most highly educated and affluent over 35 percent are almost entirely disengaged from those living near-by.
If we accept the changing character of American communities (Putnam) or the veritable collapse of some communities (Murray), does this invalidate the Whole Community strategy?
I don’t think so. From an emergency management, civil defense or homeland security perspective Whole Community is a pre-event mitigation strategy designed to enhance readiness and self-reliance where this is achievable, identify where readiness is weakest, and better understand what outside help will be needed to address specific vulnerabilities emerging from this process.
The strategic short-hand is to preserve and enhance existing strengths while recognizing and engaging persistent vulnerabilities.
Whole Community is also, according to one homeland security wag who does not want to be named here, “a therapy to combat the call-911 pandemic.” This “old codger” argues that the 911 system has had an insidious influence on the expectations of both the public and first-responders.
“The proliferation of public safety call centers has,” he claims, “caused a consumerist cancer” to transform the relationship between citizens and the public safety community. “I don’t mean to suggest 911 has not helped. It has saved thousands of lives. But the secondary and tertiary effects aren’t pretty.”
The growing — sometimes ridiculous and abusive — dependence on 911 by some “consumers” has been widely noted.
What I think is more interesting is the claim that the 911 system has redefined the role of police, firefighters, and others. “We are now subjected to time-and-motion studies that can be entirely contrary to the principles of community-based, citizen oriented, professional services. Before 911 we never presumed, and the citizens seldom expected, we could respond quick enough to always save their bacon. Now we are public safety ‘barristas’ expected to respond with whatever exotic mix of services the consumer decides they need on demand. Thing is, it works. At least on the small stuff it works really well. So we’re all being habituated to behaviors and expectations that will absolutely fall-apart when something really bad happens.”
In Whole Community efforts in which I have participated the single most empowering inputs have been from big, brave, smart, uniformed personnel telling their civilian neighbors, “If (something unusually bad) happens, you won’t see me for an hour, maybe two or three. If (something really, really bad) happens, it may be a couple of days.”
The first reaction is surprise, and I have seen a few cases of sputtering, “Well, what do you mean?” But it does not take long for most folks to look hard at prospective natural, accidental, or intentional disasters and recognize reality: What can I do with my neighbors to increases the chances for my survival and recovery. In a few cases I have observed as Whole Community engagement has taken a “place” and helped make it a “neighborhood.”
I absolutely agree with Mark and Jessica this will not happen everywhere. I also agree with Arnold that there are public sector behaviors — especially a predilection for control and subverting collaboration — which undermine Whole Community potential in places where it could happen.
Chris Bellavita wrote, “How interesting would it be if homeland security’s Whole Community philosophy were mashed with a new pedagogy of self governing?” I agree and suggest it would be as interesting and more effective if it was an andragogy of self governing.
Partly this is an inside joke, but pedagogy assumes an authority to transfer knowledge from those with it to those without it. Andragogy focuses much more on facilitating and serving the self-motivation, pre-existing experiences, and independent intelligence of the learner.
Pedagogy is for children. A vulgar form of pedagogy can be effective with consumers. Andragogy is for citizens.
Whatever else, a Whole Community is made up of citizens with equal rights and complementary responsibilities.