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Mayor Must Focus On City’s Resiliency

New York
Photo credit: Justin Leibow

This post originally appeared in Crain’s New York Business on January 3, 2014.

New Yorkers expect two things above all from our mayor: to keep us safe and to keep our economy strong. By embracing an agenda that puts resilience front and center, Mayor Bill de Blasio can accomplish both.

Resilience is the ability of people, communities and institutions to prepare for, withstand and bounce back more rapidly from acute shocks and chronic stresses. As Superstorm Sandy showed, these shocks and stresses are increasing in both frequency and intensity. They are not always preventable, but the degree of destruction and devastation can be.

Mr. de Blasio should use his first 100 days to ensure that New York is prepared to face the next shock while also fostering the right environment for growing the economy and creating good jobs.

First, a key appointee must be the city’s first chief resilience officer. New York is one of the first cities selected through the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities global challenge. As part of that selection, it will receive funding for a chief resilience officer to oversee a resilience strategy. The CRO should also knock heads together in the city agencies that are required to build and strengthen the physical resilience of the city, from housing, to energy, water and infrastructure.

The CRO must also work with Alicia Glen, the new deputy mayor for housing and economic development, to ensure that our economic systems are just as flexible and redundant as our infrastructure. This means diversifying our economy so that if one sector takes a hit, our whole economy doesn’t suffer.

Second, the mayor should make smart investments of available public dollars. The most important priority is to get the remaining “billions of dollars in federal” Sandy aid money to citizens and resilience building—fast. That aid can be a tool for economic development as well as rebuilding. But the mayor must also encourage additional private-sector investments in replicable solutions that, to have real impact, will need more support than the federal relief money alone. A good place to start would be the proposals from the innovative Rebuild by Design competition, which has brought together world-class teams to create regionally scalable resilient design solutions for the Sandy-affected area.

Third, Mr. de Blasio must work with and leverage the private sector. There is sufficient private financing to meet the city’s infrastructure needs—and Wall Street has a clear self-interest in protecting the city, particularly the financial district, from future shocks. Yet those investments aren’t currently being made. One way the mayor can make such projects more attractive to private investment is through the creation of a resilient infrastructure bank that packages and coordinates these investments. It has been done in Chicago—why not New York?

Mr. de Blasio should also double down on investments to keep New York a leader in resilience technology, building off Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s efforts to spur New York’s tech sector. Because of rising sea levels and other climate-change impacts, hundreds of cities globally will be clamoring for the products that emerge from these innovations.

By approaching resilience as not just a disaster-mitigation strategy but also a means to economic development, Mr. de Blasio can create jobs and make us safer, while also delivering on his promises to create a fairer, more equitable city.

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