To Thrive in the 21st Century, America Must Be a Nation of Resilient Cities

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One of the key priorities for the Resilient Communities for America campaign (RC4A) has been to urge federal leaders to support local resilience through meaningful policy changes. As we reflect on the first year of this campaign it is clear that our message, which has been endorsed by nearly 200 local leaders, is being heard. There is much more to do, but in a time of political polarization and Congressional inaction, this campaign is building genuine consensus and support for executive action on preparedness and resilience.

In November 2013, President Obama issued an Executive Order to create a State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. Of the local officials that were appointed to advise the President, over two-thirds were RC4A signatories, a clear recognition that the leaders who joined this campaign are among the most credible voices in the nation on this issue.

But the RC4A signatories sitting on the President’s Task Force are not the only ones having their voices heard in Washington. In May, recommendations from the ‘Resilient Communities for America Federal Policy Initiative’ were delivered to the Task Force. This document was prepared by surveying RC4A members and soliciting input during two workshops. It includes nine policy recommendations broadly embraced by the local leaders that make up the campaign.

Even before the formal recommendations of the Task Force were released, several of the RC4A policy recommendations were incorporated in legislation and new agency programs. Two notable highlights are proposals that would increase local control over transportation funding and a new $1 billion National Disaster Resilience Competition.

First, RC4A recommended greater flexibility for local governments to utilize transportation funding and related federal resources to enhance resilience. Multiple proposals, including the President’s GROW Act and the Senate’s proposal to reauthorize MAP-21, have included important changes that reflect this objective.

Additionally, the RC4A Federal Policy Initiative recommended that the federal government increase awareness of resilience related activities, make available new sources of funding and enhance coordination between federal agencies. In June, the administration announced a $1 billion National Disaster Resilience Competition that builds upon Rebuild by Design, a program coordinated by HUD with the assistance of agencies such as the Department of Transportation, Small Business Association, Department of Labor and many other agencies that had already been brought together in the Sandy Rebuilding Task Force.

In order to thrive in the 21st century, America needs to become a nation of resilient cities, towns and counties, and that is the message that the Resilient Communities for America has been striving to promote. That when storms strike our coastal communities, droughts persist in valuable agricultural land and economic fragility threatens industrial centers, all Americans share in the cost. That the fate of America is determined by the success of its local governments.

There is much to be done to advance federal-local collaboration on resilience, and despite a slow-moving and divided Congress, progress is evident as  the federal government increasingly responds to and champions local leadership.

Headshot1-CMartinAbout the author: Cooper Martin is the Program Director for Sustainability at the National League of Cities.