Announcing our New Report: "Connecting Communities for Regional Resilience: A Case Study of the Silicon Valley Region"

The Resilient Communities team at the New America Foundation is pleased to announce the release of “Connecting Communities for Regional Resilience: A Case Study of the Silicon Valley Region.” With the support of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF), Resilient Communities conducted a discovery and pre-planning process for networked resilient communications infrastructure in the Silicon Valley region.

We approached this process through the lens of urban planning. Planning as a discipline has a wide mandate to engage with questions not only of infrastructure and resiliency, but also equity and economic development. The planner’s perspective focuses on the process of community engagement and develops solutions holistically. Accordingly, we define resiliency as the process of building collectively towards shared goals by deepening relationships and developing collaborative solutions, as opposed to understanding resiliency as the ability of a community to return to a previous condition. We also understand infrastructure as both social and physical assets, not simply large monolithic building projects.

These definitions helped define our understanding of how to work in the Silicon Valley region, one of the most diverse in the country. Indeed, our focus area of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties encapsulates a wide range of cultures, geographies, topologies, and economic activities. It is mountainous and flat, rural and urban, poor and wealthy. In short, it is an area that eschews a single strategy or a top-down cookie-cutter approach to resiliency planning. As we write in this report, “resilience [...] depends upon the use of diversity as a design feature”.

This diversity informed our methodology, a mixed methods assessment that included spatial analysis, telecommunications needs assessment and asset mapping, as well as interviews, discussions and a participatory workshop for local residents and organizations. This mix of desktop analysis and community outreach led us to a propose a layered approach for resilient regional connectivity. As we articulate in the report, Silicon Valley is home to both urban and rural vulnerable areas and diverse multilingual populations, which require different technologies and information distribution strategies. We thus propose a range of solutions, from a regional fiber backbone to local wireless networks, as well as broadcast and amateur radio to create an interconnected and resilient region.

The community-driven and implemented solutions we propose are proactive and dynamic: proactive because rather than wait for the next major natural or man-made disaster, our resilient networks (like the ones we’re building in New York City) are in place before disaster strikes, and dynamic because residents can also use the local networks as a platform for community organizing, economic development, and entrepreneurship and job training. Ultimately, communities can use this report to help create interconnected, resilient, cooperative regions before, after, and despite risks and vulnerabilities.

Read our report here.

Authors:

Houman Saberi is a program manager in the Resilient Communities program for RISE:NYC. In this role, he is helping to build resilient community wireless networks in Sandy-affected areas of the city in partnership with local businesses, civic organizations, and residents. 

Greta Byrum is the director of the Resilient Communities program at New America. She reimagines the way we design, build, and manage communications systems to support local residents as leaders, organizers, and preparedness experts.

Andy Gunn was a program fellow with the Resilient Communities Project and Open Technology Institute at New America, where he partnered with communities to build and govern their own digital communications using the principles of Community Technology.