100 Resilient Cities: How the Rockefeller Foundation is Addressing Resiliency on a Global Scale

100 Resilient Cities: How the Rockefeller Foundation is Addressing Resiliency on a Global Scale

Resiliency has become a keyword when it comes to city planning and development, so much so that former AIA president, Clark Manus, declared last year that “resilience is the new Green.” To address resiliency on a global level and help cities around the world become more resilient to social, economic and physical challenges, The Rockefeller Foundation kicked off its 100 Resilient Cities Challenge in 2013. Under the initiative,100 cities will be selected to be part of the challenge, where they will receive help and funding to hire a Chief Resilience Officer and assistance in developing and implementing a resilience strategy.

So far 33 cities have been selected and last week the first-ever Chief Resilience Officer summit was held in New Orleans. To learn more about the summit in New Orleans, the overall initiative, and how cities can become more resilient, we spoke with President of 100 Resilient Cities, Michael Berkowitz, who said: "When you think about what makes a resilient city, you have to think in holistic terms. The reality is that resilience building is a multi-sector, multi-level kind of enterprise."

Read the full interview with Berkowitz after the break

ArchDaily: Can you explain more about the event happening this week in New Orleans?

Michael Berkowitz: The event in New Orleans is the first CRO summit – the first in person meeting for the CROs so that they really get to know each other. And we’ve got a couple of objectives for this event. The first is to create interpersonal bonds to make the network effective. There are great online tools like message boards and issue tracking, but if you don’t know and trust the people on the other end you’re much less likely to use the network for the really tough questions and issues.

Our second objective is to use New Orleans as a living laboratory. New Orleans has an amazing resilience narrative, one frankly that’s still in progress. It’s partially defined by the catastrophic shock of Katrina, but the city also deals with a number of important chronic stresses even now. Crime and violence continues to be a significant issue they’re focused on, as well as public health. We aim to use New Orleans to better understand the intersection between storm planning, health planning, community building, etc.

Another goal is to focus on skill building. There aren’t CROs anywhere else in the world, and it’s a really interesting position. It’s half technocrat – you have to know about risk assessment and be able to talk flooding, health or transportation – and half political. We aim to help foster and build the skills for these new resilience officers during the summit.

The first couple of days will be larger meetings with the CROs at the center of it all. And then the last couple of days will be focused on those objectives, and much smaller and intimate where we really peel back what our strengths and weaknesses are, where I don’t feel comfortable in as my new role as the CRO, etc.

The first Chief Resilience Officer Summit, held in New Orleans. . Image Courtesy of The Rockefeller Foundation

AD: What are some of the key components to being a resilient city?

MB: We have a very holistic view of what a resilient city looks like. They are cities that meet their citizens' basic needs well, that have good public health, that have cohesive and engaging communities, that have good implementation of law and order and justice, that take care of their built environment and their natural environment. They are also cities that ensure continuity of services, and finally, those that have integrated leadership with strong and engaged stakeholders. All of those things go into making cities more resilient.

One of the examples of resiliency that we often tell is this tale of two blackouts in New York City: the 1977 blackout, which led to rioting and looting and parts of the Bronx and Brooklyn burning for a couple of weeks, and then the 2003 blackout where everybody came home, checked on their neighbors, shared supplies, went up to the roofs and had a great evening. It was a completely different kind of city, and there were a lot of elements in place to generate that kind of response. In 1977, the infrastructure, the trains, the parks were all in terrible shape and it contributed to a city that was unable to cope with whatever the shock happened to be. You fast-forward almost 20 years and you see a completely different city.

And so when you think about what makes a resilient city, you have to think in holistic terms. The reality is that resilience building is a multi-sector, multi-level kind of enterprise. 

AD: How do you measure how resilient a city is?

MB: Measurement is an incredibly difficult and complex task. Cities are very complex ecosystems with lots of different components, and just trying to figure out how to measure the various internal components is difficult. And then when you take a very low-frequency, high impact event like a hurricane - or Superstorm Sandy - and your replicability of that to try to have something to measure against is very difficult. What’s easier in terms of measurement, for example, is if you have incredibly high levels of violence and you intervene because you can see if the violence went down or not.

That’s not to say that we’re not trying. There’s a whole community of people out there that are trying to measure resiliency, and the one that I’m the most familiar with is through the Rockefeller Foundation, which funded Arup, an engineering firm, to develop a city resilience index. The framework around it is up, but it’s not an index yet. First they had to see what made a resilient city, and we’re using our cities as test beds and thought leaders to help push Arup in the right direction and ultimately help this effort. Measurement is an important issue that will likely gain in importance as the years go on.

AD: What are some examples of the innovative projects or solutions that the first group of 33 cities will be implementing?

MB: We’re just at the beginning of that stage. First we help cities hire CROs, and then we start a strategy process that looks at risks and hazards, what the needs are and what the cities are already doing and then we get to priorities and initiatives. And cities in our experience like to get right to the answer without thinking about the larger question and thinking about it more holistically. So it’s often a little bit of a push and pull with cities during the process. It’s not just about, more beds or more doctors so that you can support your public health system. But it may be about picking up your trash, so that you don’t have the floods and you don’t have the disease in the first place. And to understand those linkages takes a little bit of time.

Having said that, cities are interested in climate change – our coastal cities are particularly interested in climate change and so we see a number of cities working on those issues. Norfolk, Virigina, for example, is a city well into the strategy and it has significant coastal flooding, and so they have begun to struggle with what does a development plan look like, and how can we begin to tie these issues together knowing that the coastal flooding is likely going to get more severe. San Francisco, is working with both seismic activity and climate change and where the overlap is, and how as they retrofit infrastructure, they can account for both of those things.

About this author
Cite: Katie Watkins. "100 Resilient Cities: How the Rockefeller Foundation is Addressing Resiliency on a Global Scale" 12 Nov 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/566691/100-resilient-cities-how-the-rockefeller-foundation-is-addressing-resiliency-on-a-global-scale> ISSN 0719-8884

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