Unpacking Adaptive Capacity to Flooding in Urban Environments: Social Capital, Social Vulnerability, and Risk Perception
To effectively cope with the impacts of climate change and increase urban resilience, households and neighborhoods must adapt in ways that reduce vulnerability to climate-related natural hazards. Communities in the United States and elsewhere are exposed to more frequent extreme heat, wildfires, cyclones, extreme precipitation, and flooding events. Whether and how people respond to increased hazard exposure (adaptive behavior) is widely recognized to be driven by their capacity to adapt, perception of the risk, and past experiences. Underlying these important dimensions, however, is social context. In this paper, we examine how social capital and social vulnerability shape risk perception and household flood mitigation actions. The study, based on a metropolitan-wide survey of households in Austin, Texas, USA, suggests that bonding social capital (personal networks, neighborhood cohesion, and trust) is positively related to mitigation behavior and that social vulnerability is negatively related to risk perception. Importantly, our research demonstrates a positive and significant effect of social capital on adaptive behavior even when controlling for social vulnerability of a neighborhood. This suggests that policies and programs that strengthen the social connectedness within neighborhoods can increase adaptive behaviors thus improving community resilience to flood events.