Could your city become one of the 100 most resilient in the world?

by Astrid Zweynert | azweynert | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 14 May 2013 12:00 GMT

Members of the Edo Firemanship Preservation Association display their balancing skills atop bamboo ladders in Tokyo, on Jan. 6, 2013. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

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With more than half of world population in cities, new challenge aims to push citizens, governments and the private sector to work together to build resilience

How does a city bounce back from a shock like Hurricane Sandy, the Fukushima nuclear disaster or the 9/11 bombings?

With more than half of the world’s population now living in urban spaces, many cities are racing not only to improve their preparedness for natural and human-induced shocks, but also to work with their citizens, governments and the private sector to become more resilient.

To help cities to improve resilience and share knowledge, the Rockefeller Foundation on Tuesday launched the “100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge”.

Judith Rodin, president of the U.S.-based Rockefeller Foundation, said cities were now “mission critical” to achieve greater wellbeing around the world, in particular as most of the global population growth is expected to occur in developing world cities in the next 30 years.

Experts recognise that the greatest burden of such shocks, including the impacts of climate change or public health threats, often falls on the most vulnerable people, who have fewer means to cope with them and take longer to recover.

The Rockefeller Foundation, which celebrates its 100th anniversary on Tuesday, is inviting cities from around the world to apply for the challenge, part of a $100 million effort to build resilience in cities worldwide. They will be asked to present a description of how their city is approaching and planning to build greater resilience, in particular in a way that addresses the needs of the poor and vulnerable.

Each winning city, selected by a panel of resilience experts administered by the foundation, will receive support to hire a chief resilience officer and to create a resilience plan, along with tools, technical help and resources for implementation, including help in leveraging financial support. Winners will also become members of the 100 Resilient Cities Network.

Winners will be announced in three rounds over the next three years, with the final round due to be named in 2015.

“We made a conscious decision not just to have a cash prize, and we’re calling it a challenge instead of a competition because we understand that what cities really value is the opportunity for bringing in new knowledge, shared learning and peer exchange,” Ashvin Dayal, Rockefeller's managing director for Asia, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.


ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, a network of more than 1,000 cities and towns in 84 countries, is pointing to three key vulnerabilities that cities are exposed to: record-breaking extreme weather fuelled by climate change, energy security and reliance on costly foreign energy that exposes people to volatile price spikes, and economic uncertainty that has left millions unemployed and communities “starving for investment”.

As a result of increasing threats, resilience thinking is starting to shape how planners in big cities think about updating antiquated infrastructure, much of which is robust in the face of normal threats like equipment failures but are fragile in the face of unanticipated shocks like flooding, pandemics, terrorism or energy shortages, according to Andrew Zolli, a leading expert on resilience.

“Where sustainability aims to put the world back into balance, resilience looks for ways to manage in an imbalanced world,” Zolli wrote. “It’s a broad-spectrum agenda that, at one end, seeks to imbue our communities, institutions and infrastructure with greater flexibility, intelligence and responsiveness to extreme events and, at the other, centers on bolstering people’s psychological and physiological capacity to deal with high-stress circumstances.”

The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) launched “My City is Getting Ready” in 2010, a global campaign with more than 1,200 member cities and local governments that have pledged to take steps to improve their cities’ resilience to disasters and to share knowledge.

James Nxumalo, mayor of Durban in South Africa, said his city, with a population of 3.6 million, has been developing a comprehensive strategy to build resilience against a range of risks and vulnerabilities, from climate change to water security, biodiversity loss and rapid urbanisation.

“From the structure of our city government to the way we allocate resources, building resilience is now a priority that infuses every decision, across all sectors,” Nxumalo said in a statement. “We’ve made big shifts in the status quo in just a few quick years, and we are so much stronger for it.”

(Additional reporting by Thin Lei Win in Bangkok)

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