This article was co-authored by Jeremy Sigmon, Director of Technical Policy at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)
“Resilience is bigger than disaster management,” said Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, president of the National League of Cities and co-chair of the Resilient Cities Summit hosted last week at the Aspen Institute in Aspen, CO. “It’s about preserving and improving quality of life for our citizens every single day.” The Mayor facilitated a timely dialogue on community resilience amongst his peer mayors and city leaders from across the country with the help of dozens of private sector experts and practitioners.
The National League of Cities and the U.S. Green Building Council recently hosted the event that drew more than 50 attendees from cities and the NGO and private sectors. Leaders from communities of all sizes and shapes participated in the two-day discussion, including: Aspen, Colo.; Boulder, Colo.; Cleveland; Edgewood, N.M.; Fort Collins, Colo.; Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.; Little Rock, Ark.; Mercer Island, Wash.; Multnomah County, Ore.; Nashville, Tenn.; Pinecrest, Fla.; Salt Lake City; San Francisco; Santa Monica, Calif.; Snoqualmie, Wash.; Waukesha, Wis.; and West Palm Beach, Fla.
These city leaders were able to quickly move beyond ideas and discuss specific actions they could initiate because more than two dozen other attendees represented organizations that are actively running programs to help cities become more resilient. They were able to draw on expertise from federal agencies like FEMA, HUD, EPA, and DOE; from technical assistance providers like the Trust For Public Land, Urban Land Institute, Sustainable Concrete, and the International Code Council; and from private companies such as Esri, Skanska, Trimble, Constellation Energy, Tremco, Wells Fargo, Socrata, and many more.
Over the course of two days, participants were led through a series of discussions on the following themes (view the full program):
- The complexity of resilience;
- Resilience as a leadership opportunity;
- Lessons in city resilience;
- Making the next resilience investment;
- Transforming conversation into action; and
- The global implications for U.S. city leadership
“In our fast-changing world, local government leaders in every region and of every size, shape, and culture increasingly face difficult questions of how best to ensure a strong, safe, healthy, prosperous, and sustainable community,” said Roger Platt, President of USGBC. “Community resilience is the heart of this challenge and this opportunity. The time to address it is now.”
The Summit was a unique opportunity to take stock of how far we have come in the effort to create more resilient communities, and to understand the barriers that remain.
City Resilience as a Term and a Movement
The idea of city resilience is not new. Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, is considered by many to mark the birth of ‘resilience’ as a term and a movement. In the intervening decade, professionals in environmental, risk management, urban development, and homeland security fields have increasingly worked together to recognize and pursue mutual goals. Codes, standards, and other policies have all improved to support more resilient design and development practices.
Even with a decade of work on the subject, resilience is still not very well understood amongst government officials and the industry writ large. It’s true that resilience – and associated terms like mitigation, preparedness, and adaptation – is not an applause line on the campaign trail. Still in its early stages, the resilience movement is generally confined to professional or academic circles. An observation that many shared is that for every glossy example of a project being made smarter, more sustainable, or more resilient, there are still many more counterexamples of projects that are failing to consider and address long-term risk.
At the conclusion of the Summit, it was clear that everyone in the room had learned something they could use to make their government to be more effective, or make their organization to be more innovative, or make their community to be more responsive. Alex Wilson, founder of the Resilient Design Institute, said his article summarizing the event, “The Summit was unlike any other I have attended… I came away optimistic that the attendees in the room weren’t going to simply sit by and wait for action; they were going to make it happen.”
Additionally, Summit hosts NLC and USGBC are excited to join the Urban Land Institute in the joint creation of a “Blueprint for Community Resilience” later this year. Drawing on the conversation from the Summit, the blueprint serve as a tool for city leaders and practitioners to better understand how best to leverage existing resources and successes and to encourage more effective public private partnerships that can drive community resilience.
We are excited about this collaboration between USGBC, NLC and ULI, and how our organizations and our members can accelerate the uptake of resiliency thinking in communities nationwide. Look forward to our joint report this fall, and perhaps we’ll see you at a future Resilient Cities Summit!