Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Resilience in the Midwest: How does nature buffer high speed winds?

Those of us who live in the American Upper Midwest have it pretty good. 

Although we rarely take the time to acknowledge it, comparatively to other more vulnerable regions in the globe, we are living in an ideal location. We live in the breadbasket and grow more than enough food to feed ourselves. We’re well above sea level, so we will not be affected by anticipated sea level rise. And we have the world’s largest accessible freshwater body – the Great Lakes – in our back yard. But, we still have our own forms of adversity with which we need to contend - and the tornado that flattened homes outside of Peoria, Illinois, this weekend proves that even inland areas must adapt to the challenge of increasing storm intensity.
Chris Walker, Chicago Tribune, Nov. 18, 2013
According to the Chicago Climate Action Plan, it is likely our region will experience a variety of disturbances, including stronger, but infrequent, storms causing wind damage, widespread flooding and/or intermittent drought. In the wake of the recent tornado that wrecked communities across Illinois, let’s start with wind damage – how can we make our homes and infrastructure more resilient to damaging wind speeds? As an architect and biomimic, I believe the answer can be found by looking at how our neighbors, the native organisms that have occupied this land long before we have, solve the same challenge. We can start by asking nature!

How does nature...buffer high speed winds?

Every time there is a large storm event, we see absolute devastation of our human habitats. There are no metrics to measure the wildlife populations before and after strong storm events, such as tornadoes, but it's safe to say that native populations have adapted themselves to survive and thrive through a variety of disturbances. By looking to native organisms and patterns found in nature, we can begin to think of new and innovative ways of surviving high wind speeds in our built infrastructure. Some patterns we find in nature include:

Monday, November 18, 2013


Indulge me for a minute as I complain about something that is clearly a first world problem: communication breakdowns between me and my communications provider (the irony is not lost).

After years of paying a ridiculous amount of money to have multiple carriers provide what has become a basic service in our society - communication services - I chose consolidation: a non-diversified, less-resilient strategy, but much, much cheaper. When ordering the service, I thought I had asked all the right questions - how much will it cost now, how much in the future, what channels will I get, how fast will my internet be, can I keep my old number, etc. I did what I thought was my due diligence to make sure I was ordering what I needed/wanted. But the cost I was quoted did not include some services, such as HDTV, that they consider to be an upcharge and I consider to be "basic," so much so that I didn't inquire about it assuming it was included and they didn't offer this information as the upcharge that they consider it to be. This lack of transparency about the baseline assumptions of our conversation lead to a communication breakdown and annoyance on the part of the consumer, namely me.

This problem illustrates a key point for resilience in human systems: one of the most common forms of disturbance in our business and economic systems involve communication breakdowns, and mitigating these disturbances is key to resilience of those systems. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

If there ever was a case for community resilience...

...it would be the movie The Purge with Ethan Hawk. Have you seen it? My husband and I rented it last night and it got me thinking about this idea of personal resilience and how it falls short when you need it most.

The premise of this film is a dystopic America where crime and poverty are minimal because everyone is given a free pass one night a year to commit any crime they want, including murder, to purge themselves of pent up aggression and hostility they feel during the rest of the year. 

There are two types of people in this society - those that commit the acts of aggression and murder and those that hole themselves up indoors waiting for the night to be over. Most of us would put ourselves firmly in the second camp - we'd stockpile food and water, build the best security systems to protect ourselves and our property, and hold our families close as we ride out the night and hope to survive. This is the premise that interested me about this arguably flawed movie (at the end of the film, my husband and I were laughing at it's implausibility that fundamentally misunderstands humanity, but this is a spoiler free zone so I will save that discussion for those of you who have seen it). 

To me, this movie illustrates that the focus on survivalism and personal resilience at the cost of everyone else deprives us of our humanity and is fundamentally impossible to achieve.