5 Years: A Growing and Evolving Resilience Movement

In 2013, The Rockefeller Foundation identified three major global trends: urbanization, globalization, and climate change. Cities were growing, becoming more interconnected and more vulnerable to climate-related threats. Looking to help the world cope with these challenges, and building on a 50-year legacy beginning with Jane Jacobs and leading to the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN), 100 Resilient Cities was born.

What started as a bold, but untested, idea on how to best help cities prepare for the challenges of the 21st Century has transformed into a global movement driven by city leadership, urban stakeholders, and corporate and nonprofit partners. The Chief Resilience Officer (CRO), a position unheard of five years ago, is now in 84 cities an integral position for breaking down silos in city government and unifying stakeholders around their risks and opportunities.

From OneNYC in 2015 to Santiago de los Caballeros Resiliente released last week, these CROs have so far led 40 cities in the Network in publishing holistic and actionable roadmaps to a more resilient future. Contained within these living documents are more than 2,000 specific projects and initiatives targeted to improving the cities’ capacity to thrive in the face of acute and chronic challenges. To help get these Resilience Strategies off the ground and put them into action, our partners have pledged nearly $230 million in pro bono solutions and services to our member cities. The strategies themselves have catalyzed $1.7 billion in funding to support the implementation of the projects and initiatives outlined in their pages.

We asked our Chief Resilience Officers to reflect on the past 5 years and share their hopes for the next 5 years; we asked Mayors from Paris, Pittsburgh, Toyama, and Santa Fe to share their cities’ resilience journeys; and we asked Platform Partners Wood and EY to reflect on their work with cities.

Together we’ve accomplished all this, though the real work lies ahead. As more cities publish strategies which articulate their resilience priorities, our movement will grow. It will also evolve. We know cities are where the greatest challenges of this century will be met. 70% of the world’s population is expected to reside in urban areas by 2050, which means it will be in cities where we have the chance to address the most pressing issues of our time, chief among them equity, climate, and poverty alleviation.

Yet so much of the urban landscape has yet to be built, especially in rapidly growing cities of the global South. More than ever, we have a unique opportunity to apply a resilience lens to urban development.

The World Bank estimates that $2 trillion will be spent annually over the next 15 years on urban infrastructure. The way to build stronger, more adaptable cities is to leverage those resources to produce multiple benefits, where a single intervention done right can address various challenges. New housing units and green space can be incubated to build community strength and social capital; upgraded public transportation and multimodal streets can better foster cohesive and integrated neighborhoods. This approach to infrastructure will make cities more sustainable, more livable, and ultimately more resilient, giving them greater ability to withstand whatever shock may come next.

We see the cities in our network doing incredible work, and indicating their sustained commitment for the long haul. They are building an enabling environment for greater change as well as exhibiting strong signs of institutionalization and action. Cities as diverse as Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Mexico City feature a politically mandated office of resilience in their governance structure; from Pittsburgh in the United States to Semarang, Indonesia, Resilience Strategies are being utilized as a basis for investment; serving as a model for its counterparts, New York has incorporated climate-related guidelines into the design and construction of all city buildings. In order to continue to grow this movement, we collectively need to build up this evidence base and demonstrate the impact of urban resilience.

Over the next few months, I invite you to check back in with us and learn about innovative projects we’re excited about. Reimagining its schoolyards as “urban oases,” the City of Paris will be creating green spaces open to the public as a means to break down community barriers and mitigate the effects of its urban heat island. The Parque del Norte project in Santa Fe, Argentina similarly seeks to expand public space in the city, but also takes on a comprehensive land management approach which will generate both environmental benefits and large-scale investment for housing development. The American city of Boston will be improving rail service along a traditionally underserved corridor with a strong focus on promoting equity, overall aiming to reduce travel times to jobs and schools.

Cities are venerable cauldrons of knowledge, regularly solving problems in creative ways. Imagine if projects like those in Paris, Santa Fe, and Boston, or initiatives like in Addis Ababa, Semarang, and New York were scaled up and adopted by their counterparts around the world, tailored to be more effective and for local context.

These approaches will take years, if not decades, to bear fruit. Cities are changing their approach to planning and design, with the potential for improving the lives of billions of people who live in urban centers. Your partnership has been vital to building this movement, and it will continue to be in the future. We look forward to continuing on this journey with you, together.