Sociologist: For Better Disaster Readiness, Build More Libraries

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Storm-damaged beachfront houses are shown in the Far Rockaways, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013 in the Queens borough of New York, three months after Superstorm Sandy. (Mark Lennihan/AP)
Storm-damaged beachfront houses are shown in the Far Rockaways, Jan. 31, 2013 in the Queens borough of New York, three months after Superstorm Sandy. (Mark Lennihan/AP)

When disaster strikes, people are told to go to school buildings, police stations and hospitals. But sociologist Eric Klinenberg says we should build more libraries and community centers for people to go during their time of need.

Klinenberg, who is director of the Institute for Public Knowledge, a social science research institute at New York University, joins Here & Now's Robin Young to talk about the issue.

He discusses alternatives to traditional shelters and a competition in which scientists from around the world suggest plans to save American cities from the threat of climate change and rising sea levels.

Interview Highlights: Eric Klinenberg

On social spaces as safe spaces

"Think about this: you're in the midst of an extraordinary crisis, it's so profound that the systems in your city have shut down. You don't have power, you might not have water, you don't have communications. Is that the moment you want to go into some strange, random public institution you've never spent time in before — one that's likely to be overwhelmed by people with real needs and problems, and that might not be capable of giving you what you need. Or is that the moment you want to go a place that you feel comfortable in and familiar with, a place where you know the faces and are likely to see your a lot of your neighbors. It's kind of a no-brainer."

"Every neighborhood in this country should have a designated emergency safe space, and it will work well if its also a place that people use in their lives everyday, or every week. And if we can do that right, we can do something amazing. Not just protecting ourselves from the next crisis, but improving the quality of our lives and our communities all the time."

On climate security

"We can't just build back what we had before. We have to build forward in anticipation of the kinds of extreme weather we will get."

"If you think about the response we made to September 11, the kind of investment we made in homeland security, in national security, we are now at the moment where we have to make that kind of commitment to the threats from climate change. Not just into the hard infrastructure, but also into the social infrastructure. And the nice thing about investing in climate security through social infrastructure is that the residual benefit is that we could dramatically improve the quality of life in these places all of the time, regardless of the weather. And it's that kind of intelligent design that we desperately need at this moment."


This segment aired on October 25, 2013.


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