‘Helping cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social, and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century’ – the clear objective of the New York-based, Rockefeller Foundation-backed 100 Resilient Cities. First announced in May 2013, the project signed up an initial 32 cities, including Bangkok, Christchurch, San Francisco, Mexico City, Dakar, and Rotterdam, and set out to share knowledge between the world’s urban hubs and establish common practices and methods of preparing for future challenges to city stability.
These include both chronic stresses such as food/water shortages, persistent high unemployment or violence, as well as more acute, sudden shocks such as earthquakes, floods, disease or terror attacks. ‘The ultimate goal is to promote urban resilience globally and ensure that the most vulnerable populations also have access to a good quality of life,’ explains Cristiana Fragola, Regional Director for Europe and the Middle East for 100 Resilient Cities.
The project operates using what is called the City Resilience Framework, which uses four different dimensions to determine urban resilience: health & wellbeing, economy & society, infrastructure & environment, and leadership & strategy. And while this framework helps cities initially understand how to gauge their personal resilience, the project also stresses the importance of working with multiple actors, including other cities in the network. ‘Building resilience cannot be done by a single actor or sector, no matter how innovative or passionate they may be,’ explained Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin. ‘Building resilience requires a shared vision and investment among a range of partners including cities themselves.’
One way in which 100 Resilient Cities helps cities become more resilient and better prepared for the threats of the future is through the creation of a Chief Resilience Officer for each city, who works across government departments to lead resilience strategy and ensure communication channels are open between all different actors required to work together to create necessary resilience. Membership of the project also provides access to support and expert knowledge from across the network, as well as links to both private and public organisations, as well as NGOs and individual actors.
Fragola explains how there are multiple criteria used to determine which of the hundreds of city applications should be able to join the project: ‘One is to ensure first and foremost that there is a very strong mayoral endorsement, so that the Chief Resilience Officer doesn’t become a lone wolf who needs to spend his or her energy getting political buy-in. Secondly, the city needs to have a strong motivation to want to change their business-as-usual ideology, and that could be a recent shock, like the Charlie Hebdo attack, or it could be because it’s affected by an incredible stress, like refugees flocking in every day, which is what Athens is experiencing. Third, the city has demonstrated an ability to work with different stakeholders, and has already done good engagement with multiple actors. That’s the key ingredient of our strategy, including that multi-stakeholder engagement. And fourth, the city that is able to engage, not only with its own stakeholders, but also in an international partnership.’
The impact of the two years of the project is understandably still small (‘We're still experimenting, and it’s hard at this stage to pinpoint specifically to a success story,’ admits Fragola). However, a number of cities in the network, such as New Orleans, have already undertaken robust and inclusive resilience strategies, identifying areas where the city government could intervene and improve resilience, steps which Fragola celebrates as ‘a huge success’.
A second round of cities, announced in December 2014, brought the total number currently within the network to 67, with new additions including Accra, London, Chicago, Amman and Singapore. A third round opened for submissions in July 2015 and runs until 24 November. ‘We definitely want to reach a hundred,’ says Fragola, ‘but what happens next, I’m not sure. I certainly wouldn’t rule out scaling up some more.’