Carlisle Paves the Way for Resilience Project

Sarah Mazer ’19, Staff Writer

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This fall, Carlisle will be the first city worldwide to use the newly developed City Resilience Index (CRI), an online interface that calculates a community’s resilience.

The interface was created for the Rockefeller Foundation by Arup, an independent firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants, and technical specialists, according to their website. The interface calculates the resilience of a community using data provided by community members. They evaluate a city based on their performance results in a number of areas: health and wellbeing, economy and society, infrastructure and the environment, and leadership and strategy.

Neil Leary, Dickinson’s Director of Sustainability Education and Co-founder of the Greater Carlisle Project will spearhead the project, and Dickinson students enrolled in his class, Sustainability 301: Project for Building Sustainable Communities, will be the primary researchers.

Resilience measures reaction to social change, explains Leary, and its ability to “cope with, manage, and adapt to changes” so that “people are able to live good, productive lives.” Specific to Carlisle, instances of measurable reactions can be anything from the town’s response to the Klu Klux Klan’s attempt to host a rally in Carlisle in 2000, to how it handled the shutdown of three major manufacturing plants over three years.

The student researchers will analyze census data, review Cumberland County’s Comprehensive Plan, and interview members of the Carlisle community. The class will use the information they gather to jointly fill out a survey provided by the City Resilience Index. The survey results will then be analyzed by Arup, who will publish the results. At the end of the semester, the students will present the results of their research at a workshop and then will compile the results into a report that will be co-owned with the Borough of Carlisle.

Leary sees the Resilience Project as an opportunity to combine Dickinson’s core values of sustainability and civic engagement. According to him, by examining a community’s resilience to change in multiple categories, the project matches Dickinson’s interpretation of sustainability as not solely an environmental movement, but, “a way of thinking about a broad variety of goals and principles.” In addition, for Leary, sustainability means envisioning “what’s the kind of society you want to live in and how do we create that society?”

Leary did not have immediate access to the CRI tool, because, he explains, the index was not finalized for use and “the kind of cities they’re talking about are Cape Town, South Africa; Semarang, Indonesia… Carlisle was not on their map.”

Becca Raley, Dickinson alumna of the class of ’94 and Executive Director of the Partnership for Better, sees Dickinson’s participation in the project as “a coup.” She predicts that the index will reveal the relative stability of the local economy, strong standards of sanitation and clean water, and positive influence of innovations through Dickinson. She also hopes that the information from the index will help Carlisle identify if: “the way we’re currently organizing and offering social services the most effective approach? Who’s falling through the gaps and who’s trapped in stagnant cycles?”

Student researchers Olivia Kessler ’18 and Matt Pasquali ’18 are optimistic about the project’s ability to strengthen the bond between the Dickinson and Carlisle communities. According to Pasquali, “Carlisle may have won the Strongest Town award this past spring, but there is an evident divide between students and residents.” According to Kessler, the project will help to “build and maintain relationships with the Carlisle community and break down the stereotype that Dickinsonians stay inside the walls of the college throughout their career.”