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For Cities, Resiliency Moves Far Beyond Climate Change

Written by Amanda Maher

As “100 year” storms like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy become more frequent, city officials have begun to take a hard look at climate change issues. To create a “resilient” city is to develop the tools necessary for mitigating weather-related disasters. But what happens when a city‘s resiliency is threatened by non-climate threats? How does a city respond to threats like the Boston Marathon bombings or critical housing shortages?

These questions are why the Rockefeller Foundation created the 100 Resilient Cities Challenge – an effort that originally seemed focused on addressing traditional climate change threats, but which expanded in its second year to address social and economic threats, as well.

Tuesday the Rockefeller Foundation announced its second cohort of 100 Resilient Cities winners. Thirty-five cities from across the world were selected to join a learning community, in which the Rockefeller Foundation will provide funding and technical support for implementing a municipal resiliency strategy. From the United States, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Tulsa were all named winners. Cities as far away as Chennai, India and Wellington City, New Zealand were also chosen.

Here is a more detailed look at a few of the cities’ plans:

In Chicago, a Chief Resiliency Officer will be brought on to address issues of extreme inequality and unequal distribution of resources and professional opportunities. Specifically, Chicago will look to identify the ways to help vulnerable populations with stronger STEM-skills in order to re-energize the manufacturing sector and strengthen the middle class. In doing so, Chicago hopes to stem its endemic crime and violence that has plagued the city as of late.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh – once a hub of industry and manufacturing – seeks to grow its technology, education, healthcare and finance sectors. But in order to do so, the City must address many of the challenges posed by its industrial legacy, including contaminated land and poor water and air quality. With blizzards and heavy rains becoming more frequent, the City’s aging infrastructure will be unable to contain contamination. Pittsburgh’s resiliency efforts will focus on creating a flood management system and expanding green infrastructure.

In many ways, Barcelona has led the way in climate change resiliency planning and thinking, having spent the past decade addressing issues such as pollution and chronic power outages. Meanwhile, the city has become plagued by social and economic threats, such as high unemployment and a lack of affordable housing. As residents are increasingly unable to afford their mortgage payments and utility bills, there has been an increased stress on traditional family structures. A new resiliency officer will begin to address the social and economic threats to resiliency in a comprehensive manner, much like Barcelona has done with its climate change efforts to date.

The threats faced by this year’s cohort are as diverse as the cities themselves. What’s clear is that these are not isolated issues; a systematic approach must be used to address resiliency. Cities must not just prepare for shocks, but also be able to respond when shocks inevitably occur. The Rockefeller Foundation’s funding of Resiliency Officers for each of these cities, a cabinet-level position, will encourage the high-level integration of efforts throughout city departments to ensure that efforts lead to a truly sustainable future.

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