Inequality in public health and other social and economic systems is being exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. In Honolulu, the City Resilience Office has concluded this inequality is actually an obstacle to real sustainability. Honolulu aims to build more equity into public policy through lessons learned during the Covid pandemic.
Honolulu's Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency started with the goal of building resiliency into community systems. Chief Resilience Officer Josh Stanbro says listening to about five thousand diverse community voices became the foundation for their work.
"One of the things we learned is the more input you get, the stronger policy you can create."
Another thing the Resilience Office learned is that while people who turn out for public meetings may be passionate...
"They may not have the whole suite of solutions, in fact they may be pretty siloed in terms of what their perspective is," according to Stanbro.
What about everyone else?
"I've got family at home, I'm working two or three jobs, is it possible to meet on a weekend, at a park or wherever else...? We can do that," says Stanbro. "The more effort we make to be proactive about soliciting people's input gives us a stronger policy in the end, but it also gives people a sense that we care about what you think."
Thanks for asking, was a common thread through recent interviews with nearly a hundred community members and organizations.
"One of the number one things that shows a community's resilience is their relationship to each other and to place," according to Laurien Nuss, who was hired last year as the City's Climate Resilience and Equity Manager.
"The equity program is meant to, for lack of a better term, lovingly disrupt or challenge the status quo in the forms we're used to. Saying, How can we do things differently?"
Since the pandemic began, Nuss and her team have inventoried needs and resources among individuals and community groups ranging from the Hawai'i Arts Alliance to Hale Kipa, Ka'ala Farms, and community health centers.
"The idea that vulnerable communities are helpless is something I want to de-stigmatize. The reality is that they're actually quite resilient already because they were already existing in crisis in some way pre-Covid. What's happened is, it's been exacerbated."
Nuss points to broader acceptance of community sourced knowledge and experience-based storytelling as sources of valuable historical, cultural and scientific data.
"We're learning how to synthesize and analyze this data so that it makes sense for our leadership, as well as our communities to be able to be functional and useful to shift policy or decision-making moving forward."
Thus far, biggest community concerns center around healthcare, housing, food, and how to increase self-sufficiency in critical human services, especially in particular geographic areas and need groups. For example, women in transitional shelters, and the formerly incarcerated, could use targeted programs.
Honolulu's Resilience Strategy already contains ideas about didsasters, waste disposal, water use, distilled from hours of community input. A key component is housing/shelter for all.
"Because of Covid, we have this window of opportunity where we know we have to change the status quo, we gotta build back, and we've got a blueprint to do it."
See that blueprint at https://resilientoahu.org/. The City Council has adopted it as a guiding policy document.