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Building Resilient Cities

Much of the Rockefeller Foundation’s in-depth learning on resilience has come from our Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network, also known as ACCCRN, which supports city-wide strategies, and specific investments that advance physical, social, and community resilience against rapid urbanization and climate change.

Starting with 10 cities in India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, and now expanding to more than 50 cities, ACCCRN is leading over 30 new interventions in areas such as land use planning, drainage and flood management, emergency response systems, ecosystem strengthening, and disease surveillance.

These interventions demonstrate practical ways to build the resilience of systems, sectors, and communities to climate impacts, like rising sea-levels, unpredictable rainfall patterns, and increasing temperatures.

Our strategy is three-fold:

First, we help build city-level capacity to plan, finance, coordinate and implement climate change resilience strategies that prepare for and help respond to current and future climate threats. Our grantees and partners identify priority action areas and develop and implement locally-owned, city-level projects.

Then, we develop and facilitate participatory planning processes with multiple stakeholders. We use shared learning dialogues and research, including vulnerability assessments and sector studies–all of this leading to the development of a city resilience strategy.

Second, we have created a knowledge and learning network to transfer learning and facilitate collaboration between and among individuals and institutions, in order to broaden application of these best practices within and beyond ACCCRN.

Third, we help cities expand and scale up these practices by leveraging existing financial, policy, and technical support, and crowding in additional support, including from the private sector.

The Rockaway Peninsula, New York
The Rockaway Peninsula, New York

Another example of our work on urban resilience is what we did after Superstorm Sandy in the U.S. Recognizing the Foundation’s leadership on resilience issues, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo invited Foundation president Judith Rodin to co-chair the New York State 2100 Commission to prepare New York to more effectively respond to, and bounce back from, future storms and other shocks.

We made recommendations in the areas of energy, transportation, land use, insurance, and infrastructure financing, as well as cross-cutting recommendations that are common to these sectors. Here are just a few examples:

Create a NYS Homeowner Buyout Program, encouraging homeowners in chronic flood zones to sell their homes and convert the land into open space, paid at the pre-flood market rate or above. A town in the borough of Staten Island in New York will be the first test case.

Make New York State a Leader in Deploying Smartgrid Technology into a network. Such a small-scale distribution system links multiple distributed energy sources like solar, wind, fuel, hydro. Smartgrids can work in tandem with existing systems in normal conditions, but also disconnect and operate as independent islands in cases of grid failure or emergency. New York’s Con Edison recently announced a $1 billion investment to be better prepared for the next shock.

NYC Subway Tunnel Pumping
NYC Subway Tunnel Pumping

Immediately Restore Protection to Vulnerable Areas. We plan to collaborate with the US Army Corps of Engineers as they consider how to rebuild jetties, and restore sand dunes in new ways, including soft infrastructure. The federal government has put up $20 million.

Expand the Use of Green Infrastructure – engineer systems to mimic natural processes to slow down the flow of water into sewers, streams, rivers, and bays.

And Retrofit Hard Infrastructure Transportation. Recommendations have included balloon-type structures for tunnels, making changes to the location of information systems, and expanding bus rapid transit. In energy it included burying of some power lines, and changing building codes to be stronger and more resilient at transportation substations.

The risks, threats and opportunities related to resilience are shared by countries rich and poor.

Indeed, the risks, threats and opportunities related to resilience are shared by countries rich and poor. While available resources vary, the reality is that most cities do not have the technical, financial and policy resources needed to build the right infrastructure or engage the stakeholders needed – unless we are intentional about making that happen.

And to help make that happen, and to build on the work that we and our partners have accomplished, we recently launched the 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge, a $100 million commitment to build urban resilience around the world. In a few weeks, city leaders, or major institutions within cities, can register to nominate their city through a formal application process.

Building resilience is not the task of a single actor or a single sector.

City governments and other urban actors are on the front lines of planning for their countries, and our planet’s, future. Support for innovation and collaboration is both vital, and hard to find. We believe philanthropy is in the unique position to fuel the sort of innovation that accounts for the needs of all people, enables sustainable and equitable growth, and better equips cities to manage the unavoidable, and avoid the unmanageable.

Gorakhpur, India
Gorakhpur, India

Building resilience is not the task of a single actor or a single sector. We need governments creating the right policies, plans and infrastructure investment; businesses to take on some of the risk – and through innovative financing, reap some of the rewards; communities that are flexible, responsive and robust; organizations and individuals who have the core skills required to adapt and cope – and philanthropic dollars to catalyze change.

We look forward to working together to ensure our cities remain places of great opportunity, innovation, and resilience for another century.

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