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The Future of Urban Resilience

This week at the 100 Resilient Cities 2017 Urban Resilience Summit, leaders from across the global urban resilience movement have come together to build solutions, establish connections, and create a path to a resilient future. These city leaders are committed to finding answers to the very real problems they have to tackle every day back home, and I’ve found their passion to delivering results for their constituents profound and inspiring.


  • 81 Chief Resilience Officers hired and trained to lead their cities’ resilience efforts
  • 32 Resilience Strategies with over 1,600 concrete actions and initiatives
  • $535M+ leveraged from national, philanthropic and private sources to implement resilience projects
  • 13,000+ members of the community of practice working on urban resilience in our cities globally

Since becoming president of The Rockefeller Foundation five months ago, I’ve undertaken a personal journey to understand the incredible, 104-year legacy of the institution I’m so proud to lead. Through this journey I’ve come to recognize how 100 Resilient Cities embodies three vital concepts that our foundation has stood for throughout our history, and that we’ll be working hard to carry forward into the future.


One thing I’ve observed and admired is how so many of my predecessors understood that bringing people together from across different sectors and walks of life—whether scientists, politicians, private-sector business leaders, or local community activists—to solve the world’s biggest problems has helped define a tremendous legacy of results over more than a century. When we’ve done so before, it’s sparked the field of artificial intelligence, set the stage for the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. That same spirit is embodied in 100 Resilient Cities today.


Throughout our history we’ve also had an extraordinarily high hit rate of looking into the future and betting on big, bold, novel ideas and concepts across the board. In generations past, this has given the world groundbreaking innovations: the yellow fever vaccine, the fields of public health and molecular biology, and giant cyclotrons and telescopes that advanced the frontiers of human knowledge, from sub-atomic to astronomical scale.

Resilient cities brings together two ideas that are similarly bold. The first is resilience—a credit to my immediate predecessor, Dr. Judith Rodin. Over the last decade The Rockefeller Foundation has invested more than half a billion dollars in resilience—among other things, helping New Orleans and New York rebuild in a more resilient manner after Katrina and Sandy, working with a network of cities in Asia to build resilience against climate change, and helping train resilience practitioners through Global Resilience Academies.

The second idea is the central importance of cities in defining the well-being of humanity in the coming decades. Today almost half of the 7.5 billion people on earth live in cities; by 2050 cities will be home to 75 percent of a global population of nearly 10 billion. That growth in urban environments of more than 3 billion people will have largely happened in lower and middle-income countries—particularly in Africa and Asia. So the way we design food systems, community health systems, economies that create opportunities across the socioeconomic spectrum, and public infrastructure that allows for mobility and opportunity, will very much define how we perform in the future fights against poverty, hunger, disease, inequity, and climate change.


We are determined in this next era of The Rockefeller Foundation to deliver real, human results at scale—to improve people’s lives around the world in measureable, meaningful ways. John D. Rockefeller was very precise in not only defining our mission—improving the state of humanity around the world—but also being clear that this should always be our North Star. And when we’ve convened the right partners and made the right big, bold bets, it’s allowed us to eradicate hookworm in the American South, and herald a Green Revolution that moved a billion people off the brink of starvation.

The concept of resilient cities is poised to live up to this promise. Today more than 80 cities have their Chief Resilience Officers on board, and more than 30 have released resilience strategies. The cities have leveraged more than $535 million dollars from public, private, and philanthropic sources to implement the initiatives in their resilience strategies. I was so excited to hear our partners at the summit focus so deliberately on delivering real human results—from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s comments on the need to set clear, aspirational, measureable goals, like having zero waste by 2030, and committing formal and informal leadership to deliver on that outcome, to Medellín’s collaboration with slum residents to retrofit 50 local homes for earthquake resilience before potentially expanding to thousands of hillside households.

This is only the beginning.

The promise of resilience lies not in what we’ve done, but what we will do going forward. We live in a moment when anxiety about economic opportunity has led to real populist retrenchment in many countries’ politics, when automation and globalization are further separating haves and have nots, and when global goals—from fighting poverty, famine, and disease, to banding together to address climate change—are under immense pressure. People around the world want leaders who can deliver results, and cities are stepping up to be those leaders.

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