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Remarks by Dr. Judith Rodin at the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival

Good afternoon, and thank you.

I am so pleased to be here to celebrate the Aspen Idea’s Festival 10 years of thought-provoking and world-changing discussions.

Had the initial participants been asked to “Imagine 2014,” I wonder if they would have predicted the dramatic rise of the sharing economy, the wild proliferation of social media apps and popular culture’s obsession with “the selfie.”

The truth is the rapid rate of change we’re experiencing in the world makes it almost impossible to imagine what we might be discussing here 10 years from now.

But three current trends may offer a guide.

The first is the rapid, astonishing pace of urbanization. With a global population headed towards 9 billion by mid-century, people will be mostly located in cities, in increasingly fragile ecosystems, and the sheer number of people at risk at any given time or place is unprecedented.

The second is climate change, which, in the last decade, has emerged as an undeniable contributor to the severity and extent of the disruptions we must deal with in cities, institutions and businesses.

For example, hot weather kills more Americans than all other natural disasters combined, and experts predict that summer heat waves will only worsen, leading to even more illnesses and deaths.

The third trend is globalization. Vulnerability in one place leads to vulnerability elsewhere. An earthquake in Japan shut down manufacturing in the Mid-Western United States. Economic shocks and infectious diseases travel fast, without mind for man-made borders. This will only continue to intensify.

These three factors are intertwined and affect one another in a social-ecological-economic nexus. Because everything is interconnected, a single disruption often triggers another, which exacerbates the effects of the first—a cascade of crisis.

What does this mean for cities, our topic of discussion today?

Well, it means that the shocks and disruptions we experience today are only going to get more frequent, more intense, and impact more people.

Shocks, like floods, landslides, destructive wildfires, acts of terror, infrastructure collapse, or pandemic.

Cities also must confront chronic stresses, like crime,

which are more slowly-developing than shocks but equally devastating,

No longer can we continue to delude ourselves that things will get back to so-called normal one of these days.

They won’t.

Nor can we continue to devote such great amounts of resources to recovering from disasters that could have been prevented or responded to better.

The good news is that we are living in an age where resilience is not only critical, but where we have the tools, the networks, and the know-how to become more resilient than at any other time in history.

We define resilience as the capacity of individuals, communities, organizations and systems to survive, adapt, and grow in the face of shocks and stresses, and even transform when conditions require it.

And it’s not just about keeping bad things out.

Resilience ensures that a city can continue to operate at its highest function on its best and on its worst days. It’s a lever for unlocking greater economic development and business investment, as well as improved social services and more broadly shared prosperity.

This is what I call the “the resilience dividend.” And it has two components:

First, it refers to the difference between how disruptive a shock or stress might be to a city that has made resilience investments, compared to the degree of disruption the same city would face if it hadn’t invested in building its resilience.

Second, it describes the co-benefits that investing in resilience can yield to a city: job creation, economic opportunity, social cohesion and equity.

Let me give two examples, which I share in my upcoming book out this fall and titled, appropriately, “The Resilience Dividend.” The first is well-known to many in this room who experienced the impact of Superstorm Sandy, either first-hand, or through disruptions to supply-chains or other second hand impacts.

The storm did about $65 billion in damage, closing Wall Street for two days, and leaving lower-Manhattan and its businesses in the dark for up to a week.

After the storm, Governor Cuomo asked me to chair a commission to focus on making the state’s infrastructure and systems more resilient.

This required us to look at the vulnerabilities that had put the entire system at risk during Sandy and continued to do so.

We found, for example, that the electrical grid had no capacity for islanding or de-networking, so when one piece went down it took down much more of the grid.

We also found that the state had enormous amounts of data, yet lacked the analytic tools to mobilize that data in crisis.

There were other vulnerabilities, as well, in soft infrastructure—natural buffers that once protected New York’s shorelines, such as oyster beds or tidal wetlands, had been destroyed by or developed for industry and urban development over the last 100 years.

These were just a few examples of areas we recommended changes, emphasizing and promoting those that would do more than just better prepare the City in times of disruption, but also yield daily benefits.

For example, installing smart grid technology is poised to generate millions in savings and lead to fewer outages due to other events, such as extreme heat.

Boosting the capacity for data analysis will sharpen a host of other city services.

That’s the resilience dividend.

Superstorm Sandy is an example of a shock.

Now let’s look at a chronic, escalating stress.

You may know that Medellín, Colombia was once the most dangerous city in Latin America.

For decades it was trapped in a downward spiral of violence and poverty, amid the daily tragedies of murder, corruption, drugs, absence of services, and economic disparity.

Over the years, the government had tried a number of efforts to loosen the grip of violence and crime in the city, from military interventions to incarceration.

Then, in the 1990s, Medellín began to try different ideas and investments that would create more resilient communities, to withstand the lure of the drug trade, including, increased job creation, and connecting fractured communities to the city’s core activities.

One such focus was on mobility and transportation, to move people from isolated communities in the hills to economic centers, ensuring that all residents had direct access to a variety of services including community centers, public art, health care facilities, and schools.

To do this, they developed the first urban “cable car” or gondola lift, which connects to the city’s subway system.

Another investment was made to build an escalator climbing the hill to isolated communities. The escalator has cut the walk time from the hillside to the economic center of the city from about thirty minutes to about six.

This system serves a crucial function in times of disaster, such as a mudslide or an earthquake. For example, the escalators serve as an evacuation route, as well as helping emergency crews get to the community much more quickly.

But it’s also integrated the poorest and most isolated—also the most violent—communities into the city center, which has helped to cut down on crime.

These are two of many cities around the world where we’ve been working to build urban resilience.

Indeed, last year, we launched our largest resilience effort yet—100 Resilient Cities, a $100 million initiative to help 100 around the world increase their resilience to shocks and stresses and leverage public finance and the resources of the private sector to do so.

So far, 32 cities were named, from Medellín to Byblos, Lebanon; from Mandalay, Myanmar, to Boulder, Colorado.

We’ll be choosing the next group of cities later this year. Selected cities receive four types of support:

First, support to hire and empower a City Chief Resilience Officer, or CRO, a central point of contact within each city to coordinate, oversee and prioritize resilience activities.

Second, cities receive support to develop a resilience strategy that analyzes and mitigates their vulnerabilities and build on their unique strengths.

Third, cities in this Network have access to a platform of services leveraging resources significantly beyond our $100 million to support the implementation of the resilience strategy, including solutions that integrate Big Data analytics, technology, resilience land use planning, infrastructure design, and new financing and insurance products.

Our partners so far include Swiss Re, Palantir, the World Bank, Sandia National Laboratories, Ushahidi, the International Finance Corporation, and the Inter-American Development Bank, just to name a few.

And the list is growing.

And fourth, cities become members of the 100 Resilient Cities Network, a peer-to-peer network share new knowledge and resilience best practices and foster new connections and partnerships.

Beyond helping individual cities better prepare for and withstand the turbulence of the 21st century, we believe that by creating a market for resilience products and services in 100 cities, more companies will be incentivized to push the limits of technology and innovation, which will benefit all cities.

For example, there have been some exciting resilience innovations that are coming out of the 3-D printing revolution. In New York Harbor, we are rebuilding after Sandy with a new system to create pilings to replace the aging and cracking ones that support the city’s docks and piers, known as “digital concrete”.

They are produced by a massive 3-D printer using a stone/concrete-like material.

Flexible, adaptive and strong—and far more cost-effective in the long run.

That’s just one example of the kind of resilience services and technologies the private sector can provide, making new kinds of products and services to help cities get an economic leg up while better preparing for what’s next.

This is catching on.

Because no matter if the next shock hits tomorrow or in 2024, the resilience dividend is something a city can realize the benefits of each and every day.

I look forward to unpacking this further with Phillip, and welcome your questions and comments.