Maxwell Young — resilience is in many ways “a grass roots project”

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courtesy 100 Resilient Cities

The Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Challenge seeks cities that are ready to build resilience to the social, economic and physical challenges they face in an increasingly urbanized world. An announcement of this year’s winners is set for December, and the next round will open in 2015. We asked the program’s communications director, Maxwell Young, to explain how local communities can lead this multi-year effort to build urban resilience worldwide, and how cities can use the initiative to think of themselves as part of a growing global network.

WINGS: Given the massive projected growth of urban areas over the next 30 years, how does the challenge raise awareness around community and social resilience, and what can individuals do to promote these ideals in their local communities?

Maxwell Young: The Challenge, while also serving our method for selecting our partner cities, also raises awareness by getting cities around the world think about resilience in all its forms—social, economic, and physical. We specifically highlight the importance of thinking about all three types of resilience in our application, and encourage a view of resilience that includes all these aspects.

As for what individuals can do, it varies on a city by city basis. Different cities have different needs, and while we value community and social resilience very highly, we cannot prescribe universal guidance on that. We do highlight examples of community and social resilience from around the world on our blog. We have a post written in late August that highlights several stories on community resilience.

In general, we know that resilience is in many respects a grass roots project—do people know and check on their neighbors? Are they ready to evacuate in the case of an emergency? Do they have sufficient savings and resources to survive a shock or an acute stress? If the answer to these questions is “no”, they could certainly be a target for our resilience building efforts.

WINGS: How did you select the first 32 cities and how do will you select the second group? How can cities plan winning strategies for the 2015 application cycle?

MY: While each city is different, we’ve found that our strongest partners share four characteristics, which are what we’re looking for in this round of cities:

  1. An innovative, engaged and committed Chief Executive – We believe that resilience building is broader than just city government, but we also know city government is necessary. From Christchurch to Medellin and in-between, we’ve found that having a mayor with these characteristics leads to a stronger, more empowered CRO; more decisions being made through a resilience lens; and a more comprehensive, cross-siloed and cross-sectored resilience building process. We’ve also found it important to have some measure of political stability, since the process unfolds over the course of several years.
  2. A recent catalyst for change – It may seems obvious, but it bears repeating: A city that has a strong catalyst for change, be it a recent shock (e.g. Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans) or a truly pressing stress (e.g. rising sea levels in Norfolk) is likely to be more engaged in the resilience building process.
  3. A demonstrated ability to work with a broad range of invested stakeholders – shocks and stresses affect everyone in a city, so resilience building must be done across silos of government and sectors of society. In places like Los Angeles, we are seeing collaboration among everyone from business leaders, to advocates for the homeless, to academic water experts taking part in the planning process. This participation by a range of stakeholders ensures that as many resilience challenges as possible are being surfaced, and that everyone’s resilience needs – especially those of the poor and vulnerable – will be addressed.
  4. A willingness to engage in a partnership – 100 Resilient Cities seeks to work closely with cities over a multi-year process, building a deep and abiding partnership, and a give and take. We’re looking for cities that are willing to work with us to build resilience, that have an open mind towards the process, and that can incorporate feedback from a wide variety of sources.

WINGS: Does the challenge present an opportunity for grassroots initiatives in local communities to think about their cities more constructively?

MY: Absolutely. One of the key tenets of our engagement in cities is bringing in a wide variety of stakeholders. This not only allows grassroots activists to share their efforts and learnings with businesses, government officials, civil society and other advocates, it allows them to learn from these parties as well, and tailor their efforts accordingly.

WINGS: How does the initiative encourage cities to think of themselves as part of a global network?

MY: 100RC’s member cities are part of a literal global network, which is one of 100RC’s four core offerings. The network is a peer to peer network between CROs, and a city to city network between member cities. Member cities have been engaging in ad-hoc networking and interacting with one another, whether we’re present to facilitate it or not. Just last week, the CROs from the Bay Area (Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco) just spent some time with the CRO of Christchurch, New Zealand to discuss their shared and unique resilience challenges. Also, representatives from the city of Vejle visited Rotterdam to talk about water management planning.

100RC aims to institutionalize the practice of resilience—we hope that cities beyond our network begin to apply a resilience lens to their plans. The knowledge gained from our member cities is shareable and communicable, so cities who aren’t a part of the network can access resilience knowledge.

Learn more at the 100 Resilient Cities website. More WINGS interviews here.

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