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The Most Important Job You Haven’t Heard Of (Yet)

A version of this post also appeared on LinkedIn.

“Every city has a different set of needs—but every city needs a Chief Resilience Officer. While 100 Resilient Cities is helping to hire the first 100, other cities don’t have to wait.”

Last week I stood beside my good friend Mayor Mitch Landrieu as he announced New Orleans’ first Chief Resilience Officer (CRO), the impressive Jeff Hebert, who has led the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority for many years. In this new role, Jeff will coordinate and integrate the city’s resilience strategy to address such challenges as sea-level rise, extreme weather, crime, and public health threats.

New Orleans is a case study of the need for building resilience—a reminder of what can happen to any city or any business that hasn’t fully planned or prepared for a range of shocks and stresses that are coming faster and staying longer in the 21st century. Nine years after Katrina, crisis is now the new normal. Because of the triple threat of urbanization, globalization and climate change, a week doesn’t go by in which we don’t see some kind of disturbance to the normal flow of things—a cyber-attack, a new strain of virus, a structural failure, a violent storm, a civil conflict, an economic blow, a natural system threatened. And once one emergency subsides, it seems as though another one pops up elsewhere, stretching resources thin.

The status quo—tackling these problems only after disaster strikes—is not sustainable, nor will it position cities to be successful in the long term. Investing in resilience can achieve multiple wins—the resilience dividend as we call it—that not only prepares a city to bounce back after disaster, but can impact its economic development, community cohesion, and ecosystems management every day.

I write about New Orleans and other cities, as well as businesses and communities around the world, that have reaped these benefits in my new book “The Resilience Dividend” out today from Public Affairs.

But to succeed, resilience requires integration on all levels—both within City Hall and beyond it. That’s why a CRO is so critical. By the end of three years, the number will increase to at least 100; that is the goal of 100 Resilient Cities, a new entity pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation with an initial $100+ million to equip 100 cities to build urban resilience. The Chief Resilience Officer should have the ear of their city’s top-decision maker, and have the proven ability to act as a conductor for a disparate orchestra of resilience-builders, from law enforcement to disaster planning to economic development.

Last week, we brought together those CROs at the first ever CRO Summit in New Orleans. They exchanged best practices, and compared notes on what was working, and what wasn’t. Their cities are not only learning from each other—they’re building bridges across political, ideological and cultural divides, and changing the way governance organizes around resilience planning.

We’ve seen Christchurch, New Zealand, learning from San Francisco about earthquake risk reduction, and from Porto Allegre, Brazil, about participatory budgeting. And officials in Medellín, Colombia, and New Orleans are now working hand-in-hand as they explore ways to bring down their historically troubling crime rates.

But what, exactly, does a CRO do?

The job description varies by city, and there is certainly not a normal day on the job.

In San Francisco, the CRO might meet with tech leaders to discuss how to apply new technologies and big data solutions. In the evening he might host community residents for a meeting on earthquake readiness. In late August, the CRO travelled to Napa to help out with earthquake recovery efforts and share lessons.

While 100 Resilient Cities is helping to hire the first 100, other cities don’t have to wait. A job posting might look something like this:

YOUR CITY is seeking a Chief Resilience Officer to reach across silos in City Government and sectors of society to prioritize resilience planning. A qualified candidate:

  • Could come from a range of backgrounds: some are technicians, others politicians. Some are building codes whizzes, and others are experts in community engagement. Some have been in city government for their entire careers, while others are brand new to public service.
  • Has interest in planning for an array of challenges—earthquakes, flooding, eroding tax bases, erosion of cultural identity, traffic congestion, water scarcity, and more.
  • Views the private sector as a partner and can coordinate stakeholders from across the private and public sectors to take on shared challenges.
  • Values sharing and learning from other cities.
  • Embodies a passion for standing at the vanguard of urban thinking, pioneering an entirely new, collaborative approach for the 21st century.

Every city has a different set of needs—but every city needs a CRO. And with shocks and stresses mounting, cities have little time to lose.

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