2019 CSCE Annual Conference - Laval (Greater Montreal)

2019 CSCE Annual Conference - Laval (Greater Montreal) Conference

The Effect of Social Capital on Post-Disaster Informal Reconstruction in Puerto Rico

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Ms. Jessica Talbot, Iowa State University (Presenter)
Dr. Cristina Poleacovschi, Iowa State University
Dr. Sara Hamideh, Iowa State University

Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017. Housing became an immediate concern as the island experienced significant delays in response and recovery efforts. Thus, communities had to rely on their own resources to initiate the reconstruction process. This research defines these self-recovery actions as informal reconstruction, which represents the design and construction actions carried out by households in establishing temporary and permanent features of their houses outside of formal construction processes and regulations.  While over 50% of houses in Puerto Rico have used these informal methodsthere is limited understanding of the phenomenon and its drivers. This study addresses that gap by focusing on community drivers and asks the question, “What role does social capital play in the post-disaster informal reconstruction process?” The research uses social capital as the theoretical lens to understand how communities were able to mobilize their own resources and build informally during critical times. Social capital represents social ties between individuals and groups and is characterized by three distinct and important forms including bonding (close communities), bridging (horizontal relationships with other distinct communities) and linking (a vertical relationship with an established power dynamic). Data collection included surveys with 75 household owners in five rural communities (Adjuntas, Barranquitas, Yabucoa, Loiza and Culebra island) to measure levels of social capital and informal reconstruction. Data analysis included statistical analysis of surveys to identify the effect of different forms of social capital on informal reconstruction.  Results showed that households reporting higher levels of social capital felt most empowered in the reconstruction process and on average participated in more reconstruction activities, and in a quicker time frame, than those reporting lower levels of social capital. Further, that bonding capital specifically, characterized by strong feelings of trust amongst neighbors and family members living in close proximity to each other, proved most effective for initiating informal reconstruction. This research contributes to social capital theory in post-disaster recovery by showing how different social capital forms work in complementary ways to mobilize resources for housing reconstruction. These results inform policy makers about community planning by identifying and emphasizing social characteristics which are essential in post-disaster recovery and long-term resilience.