In this op-ed, cross-posted from The Guardian with special permission, 100RC President Michael Berkowitz discusses why we convened Chief Resilience Officers and all our resilience partners in Mexico City to learn from its challenges and innovations, in order to develop our capacities as resiliience builders.
Depending on how you count them, there are about 10,000 cities around the world, housing more than 50% of the world’s population. By all estimates, that number is only increasing and by 2050, 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. Our cities face an ever-expanding range and severity of challenges – from increasing climate-related hazards to additional stresses on infrastructure, society and the economy.
With so many risks – both known and unknown – how can cities become more resilient to the social, economic and physical challenges of the 21st century? And how can cities utilise these perceived challenges as means to better plan and create thriving cities, resilient to the potential shocks and stresses that will accompany such stark changes?
Responding to these questions, the Rockefeller Foundation – which supports Guardian Cities – created 100 Resilient Cities (100RC), an organisation dedicated to helping cities around the globe build resilience to both sudden shocks – traumatic events like earthquakes and floods – and more long-term, chronic stresses such as poverty and housing shortages. Since our inception in 2013, 100RC has worked to fulfil its call-to-action by choosing 100 cities to form this important vanguard.
To help them build resilience, 100RC offers member cities four types of support: assistance to develop a comprehensive “resilience strategy”; access to a $100m-plus pool of best-in-class services from partners in the private, public, NGO and academic sectors; and connection through our peer-to-peer network so that cities can learn from each other’s success and failures. But perhaps the most important offering is funding and support for hiring a chief resilience officer (CRO).
A CRO is a high-level adviser to the city’s chief executive, who has the responsibility of working across sectors of society and silos of government so that key decision-makers connect important strands of work. A CRO can help to shape thinking about how decisions and priorities affect the ability of their city not only to survive a possible disaster, but to adapt, grow and thrive no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks a city experiences. If you think of those involved in resilience building as an orchestra, the CRO should act like a conductor, drawing all those parties together to build a harmony.
This work involves consensus building, leadership and bridging difficult divides – which is why we are in Mexico City this week, along with our global network of CROs, for the second Chief Resilience Officer summit, a week-long event that will convene pioneers in the practice of urban resilience from six continents and more than 30 countries. CROs will share ideas, further best practices, and develop the tools necessary to make sure their cities are stronger, more robust, more inclusive – and ultimately more resilient.
There is no better place to do this than in the living resilience laboratory that is Mexico City. As the cultural and political heart of Mexico, and an economic powerhouse in Latin America, the city faces many challenges and opportunities that are shared throughout the world.
For example, while the city flourishes in many respects, it grapples with the effects of rapid urban expansion. Since the 1950s, Mexico City’s metropolitan area population has exploded from three million to 21 million inhabitants, with nearly three million people now residing in informal settlements.
Poorly planned urban expansion, coupled with the proliferation of these informal settlements, has greatly exacerbated the risks and impacts of shocks and stresses, as earthquakes, long-term water shortage and land subsidence impact informal settlements at a greater rate. Rapid growth has exposed significant stresses on the city’s social and physical infrastructure – consuming conservation land, stressing the water aquifer, and increasing poverty and inequity.
To better understand how these risk factors fit together, Mexico City is beginning to look at the links between problems – for example, between informal housing and economic inclusion, and building codes and water aquifers. This is crucial as it considers how to survive the next major incident, while building a city that thrives for all its inhabitants.
Like many progressive, resilience-minded cities, Mexico City is now exploring new ways to combat shocks and stresses at the same time, with a clear focus on improving the prospects of vulnerable communities. For instance, efforts to improve transportation and traffic, including investments in bus rapid transit, bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly zones, have improved access to jobs and neighbourhoods while decreasing the city’s air pollution – once labelled the worst in the world.
The opportunity for peer-to-peer learning in a classroom as rich as Mexico City will be instrumental in 100RC’s efforts to catalyse a new global practice of resilience. We want CROs to learn from the work Mexico City is doing, while taking note of the historic challenges the city has faced.
While people, places and languages will always differ, approaches to addressing long-term risks and opportunities shouldn’t. We have seen through our work that cities across the globe share common challenges and solutions, and we hope that the learning from Mexico City will spark new and shared ideas for our broad-based resilience movement.
Michael Berkowitz is president of 100 Resilient Cities, an organisation pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation