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Journal article

Rising above a crisis: Resilience processes and community well-being

1 Jan 2011

Background. The closure of the North Atlantic cod fishery in 1992 has had devastating economic, social and health impacts on coastal communities in Newfoundland and Labrador. However, considerable variability in adaptation has been noted between communities that were formally dependant on the fishery. Aim. This thesis builds on previous research by exploring the community-level social and economic processes that contribute to the variability in adaptation measured through an expansive conceptualization of community well-being.

Method. Two communities differing in employment recovery during the 1990s were selected for multi-method case studies. Quantitative and qualitative data on community well-being, social processes (social capital), and economic processes (local economic development) were integrated into the analysis.

Results. Ratings of most community well-being dimensions were generally positive in both communities. However, Dorytown residents reported less alcohol abuse, less crime, greater ability to be involved in decision-making, greater satisfaction with community characteristics such as greenery and parks, water quality and services from the local council. Residents of Dorytown were also more hopeful for the future, and perceived greater employment availability in the region. Some mental and physical health indicators were poorer for both communities than for the Province, with the exception of self-rated health and heavy alcohol consumption. Dorytown had lower hospitalization rates than Bigcove, and less moderate and heavy drinking.

Community well-being findings for Bigcove were more consistent with documented effects of economic decline. In terms of economic and social processes, employment in Bigcove had been more dependent on the volatile fishery whereas Dorytown community groups planned and executed an economic development strategy using federal and provincial programming dollars, volunteered labour from the community, and natural resources within the community. Residents in both communities expressed concerns with employment security in their towns. Interviews suggested that all forms of social capital (bonding, bridging and linking) were associated with greater development of community-controlled economic opportunities and positive social outcomes (youth engagement, public safety) for Dorytown. Other factors such as leadership, human capital (skills and knowledge), and community enabling government policies played a substantial role in outcomes for Dorytown.

Conclusion. These findings provide some insight as to the community-level processes that underlie certain dimensions of community well-being and demonstrate the benefits of a mixed-methods approach to understanding it. Policy implications include skill-building supports for community development volunteers, and aspiring or existing entrepreneurs, so that they are better equipped to engage with government or other funding bodies, continued support for community development funding programs, and policies that support economic diversification.

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