Disasters – An Opportunity You Can Not Afford to Waste

Communities seem to fall into two camps after a disaster.
One point of view is that everything should return to just the way it was. Businesses and homes should be built back in their original locations. A rebuilt school should look like the original. The expectation is that recovery is successful if a community can be recreated in its previous image – with the caveat that homes and businesses should be a little more resilient with storm shelters or flood protection.
With time and perspective, I am convinced of a second point of view. A disaster can also be an opportunity. In Joplin, we suddenly had a clear view across one-third of our community after the May 2011 tornado. For the first time (and we all hope the only time) we had the opportunity to reimagine the shape of our community. We could adjust for some of the helter-skelter organic growth that had happened over time. We could lobby for amenities that were new to our community. We could make a decision to take enough time to reimagine healthcare and education in the 21st century and build for the future.
There’s no question that the second path is much more difficult. It requires collaboration and the willingness to think in a new way. Viewing disasters as a long-term opportunity opens the door to striking a foul ball or hitting one out of the park and in Joplin we’ve done both. Visioning requires courage and faith.
Taking time to reimagine pays benefits. The visioning process gives citizens hope and an outlet to stop looking around and look ahead. In all the cities that I’ve seen respond this way the results have been an improved way and place to live. Whether it’s the sustainability focus of Greensburg, KS or the newly opened Gateway Innovation and Discovery Center in Tuscaloosa, AL citizens have new opportunities. Joplin’s new future focused library opening in 2017 is moving to our most devastated area and within reach of a large portion of our low to moderate income citizens.
My advice to communities caught in the whirlwind of recovery? Take time to assess, plan and dream no matter how much pressure there is to rebuild quickly. Although you never asked for the “opportunity”, it’s one you can’t afford to waste.