Paris Is on the Vanguard of a Resilience Revolution

Remarks from Michael Berkowitz, President of 100 Resilient Cities. As prepared for delivery on 5 April, at Hotel de Villes, Paris, France:

For centuries, the world has looked to Paris to be inspired.

As the birthplace of many revolutions – in the arts, in politics, philosophy and in urbanism – it is only appropriate that Paris will also be at the vanguard of the next revolution – the resilience revolution.

This revolution is our shared response to the greatest human challenges of our time – including globalization, urbanization, and climate change.

  • Globalization means that now more than ever what happens in one city affects others around the world – whether it’s flooding disrupting interconnected supply lines, a disease epidemic, or economic contagion.
  • Urbanization and changing demographics mean that cities face even greater pressures not just on the delivery of basic services, but also in creating a shared identity among those who have deep roots and those who are just beginning to plant their own.
  • And we know that the effects of climate change and sea level rise threaten entire cities – on coastlines, in river deltas and on high plains – exposing billions of people to significant risk from floods, droughts, and rising tides.

These 21st century challenges require 21st century solutions, and we are excited to have the City of Paris, and Mayor Anne Hidalgo, as a partner in these efforts.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo joins 100RC President Michael Berkowitz and Regional Director for Europe and the Middle East Cristiana Fragola at the Paris workshop.

The Mayor and her staff, including Deputy Mayors Patrick Klugman and Celia Blauel, have positioned Paris as a world leader on the environment and urbanism. It is a testament to the mayor’s vision that the world reached the most important international agreement on climate in history when leaders gathered here for COP21 last December.

But while climate change is indeed a major risk accelerating the need for resilience thinking, it is far from the only one.

When the city of Paris applied to become part of the 100 Resilient Cities network in 2014, its application focused on the city’s vulnerability to flooding and heat waves. And just a few weeks ago, I know the city simulated what a once-in-a-hundred year’s flood might mean for the city.

Given the risk the Seine poses and the legacy of the tragic 2003 heat waves, these priorities were appropriate focuses of Paris’s application.

Over the course of the following year, the world watched as the horrific events of Charlie Hebdo and 13 November unfolded. These attacks, along with waves of immigrants and refugees, fleeing conflict in search of a better life have rightly focused attention on inclusive cities and a discussion here about what it means to be French, Parisian, European.

What resilience thinking asks us to do is to have those two conversations together. To ask ourselves how can we solve for the environmental challenges – around climate change, heat waves, air pollution, and flooding – at the same time as we think about how to plan for, integrate, and include new migrant populations.

For inspiration on how to do that you might look to Medellin, the Colombian city which in the 1990s was the world’s murder capital. To address this – the city connected its isolated slums to its economic center through innovative transportation solutions. A commute that used to take 2 hours via motorcycle or bus down winding roads now can be done in less than an hour via outdoor escalators, gondolas, and bus rapid transit. The result was not only that murder dropped by nearly 90 percent, but also that the city’s air quality and economy improved.

Recently in recognition of this – the city was awarded Singapore’s prestigious Lee Kuan Yew World Cities prize based in part on work by Medellin’s Chief Resilience Officer.

How does that apply to the context here in Paris? Well, imagine if we were to solve Paris’ exposure to flood risk not just by asking where to build new flood walls, but by asking how we can also improve public safety and social inclusion through green space in flood prone areas.

Imagine if we were to ask how Paris’ past infrastructure decisions, including the segregation of the city core from its outer suburbs by the Boulevard Périphérique has contributed to social isolation and lack of economic opportunity in Les Banlieues.  And how, through green, inclusive public space we could address both environment threats and social cohesion at the same time.

The Paris metropolitan region will spend billions in the coming years to implement the vision from COP21. Imagine if an inclusion screen were placed on those investments, mandating that each decision needed to account for building a more inclusive society, city, and region.

This is the power of resilience thinking, what we refer to as “the resilience dividend.” Addressing multiple challenges with one intervention.

This is what excites me most about this partnership. Paris’ opportunity to become a world-class exporter of best practices for tackling climate related threats while achieving social integration even for the most poor and vulnerable. With efforts to build a smarter, more inclusive, Paris – we see resilience as the umbrella that ties all of these initiatives together.

We’re excited to have an amazing partner in Paris’s new Chief Resilience Officer: Sebastien Maire.

As I said in my earlier remarks, Paris has been inspiring the world for centuries with some of the most brilliant minds and thought leaders across the disciplines. This continues to be true today, starting with Mayor Hidalgo and the colleagues of the Paris Administration.

This city is well known as a leading urban innovator. We want to build upon these endeavors and honor their contribution.

That will be Sebastien’s task – to work across sectors and departments to tell Paris’ unique resilience story, and to share the lessons you developed here with his growing network of colleagues all across the world, from places as diverse as Bangkok and Rio de Janeiro.

We were with Sebastien on 13 November, when the horrible attacks on Paris unfolded. That day, we realized that the world had a new proving ground for resilience. And that is where we stand today.

There is important work ahead, and everyone in this room will be part of it. So today I extend a warm welcome from 100 Resilient Cities to the city of Paris. And welcome especially to Sebastien – we look forward to the work ahead.