100 Resilient Cities Initiative In Atlanta

by Emma French And Supraja Sudharsan

Setting Atlanta’s Resiliency Agenda

Last week the City of Atlanta launched its 100 Resilient Cities program (100RC) with a day-long agenda-setting workshop — the first step of an engagement process to develop a robust resilience strategy for the City. Atlanta was selected to be part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100RC program in May 2016 along with thirty-six other cities from around the world, together forming the one-hundred-cities’ cohort of 100RC. The selected cities, which span 6 continents and over 50 countries, receive financing to hire a Chief Resilience Officer (CRO), as well as additional logistical and networking support.

Atlanta’s agenda-setting workshop, co-hosted by the Rockefeller Foundation, featured a forty-five minute presentation by 100RC President, Michael Berkowitz, a keynote address from Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and four facilitated small group activities designed to gauge the participants’ understanding of resiliency and perceptions about Atlanta’s biggest long-term stresses and acute shocks. In addition to these activities, participants were asked to take a pre- and post-workshop online survey on changes in attitude. Students, faculty, and staff from Georgia Tech, including several researchers from CUI, attended the workshop, as both attendees and table facilitators.

What Makes a City Resilient?

Resilience may be defined in several ways depending on the system being studied and the actors involved, including ecological, organizational, or supply-chain system resilience, or resilience of a particular community or individual. In general, resilience refers to adaptation and/or recovery following a disruption to normal operations of a system (Bhamra, Ran et al.). In a forthcoming book chapter, CUI Director Jennifer Clark draws connections between urban resilience and innovation. In it, she writes “resilience speaks to the viability of complex systems to withstand and adapt to change.” For a city that encompasses complex economic, environmental, and social systems, a change or disruption could be in the form of acute shocks, such as flash floods, massive infrastructure failures, heat waves, and blizzards, or from expressions of long-term stresses, such as chronic water shortages, poverty, inequality, pollution, and unemployment.

With more than 50% of the world’s population living in urban areas and climate change acting as a multiplier of many of the above-enumerated shocks and stresses, the role of city government and other stakeholders in weathering these changes and building systems that can withstand and overcome adverse impacts of urbanization and climate change, and the associated social and economic challenges becomes paramount. The IPCC estimates funding requirements for climate-related adaptation efforts in developing countries to be in the order of seventy to one hundred billion dollars a year by 2050 (albeit with low confidence). A UNEP report, however, estimates this gap to be higher by 4-5 times by 2050. Therefore, support from public, private, and non-governmental organizations is crucial for building local capacity for resilience. Several programs such as the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit, as well as transnational networks such as 100RC, ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, the United Nations Human Settlement Program, and others provide support in the form of financing, information-sharing, and networking opportunities for cities. However, depending on their definition of “resilience” and their inclusion or exclusion of adaptation-related issues, the nature and type of support varies among the above organizations.

100RC defines resilience as the ability of a city to maintain essential functions and to evolve and emerge stronger in the face of acute shocks and chronic stresses. A resilient city, according to the Rockefeller Foundation, is one that is reflective of past experiences, resourceful, exhibits inclusiveness in decision-making, integrates different systems and institutions, is robust, redundant to accommodate disruption to services, and flexible to changing circumstances. Utilizing a City Resilience Framework (CRF, developed by Arup and the Rockefeller Foundation, See Fig. 1 below), the CRO plans interventions to address identified shocks and stresses that span some or all of the dimensions of the CRF. In Medellin, Colombia, for instance, tramlines added to supplement its gondola-based transit system improves the city’s resilience indicators across all of the four dimensions by providing redundancy, contributing to reduction in homicide rates, reducing transit time ,and enhancing social inclusion and integrating regions along the path of transit.

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Fig 1: City Resilience Framework.The four primary dimensions are represented in gray and the drivers of these dimensions represented in yellow. These dimensions (drivers) are Health & Wellbeing (Meets Basic Needs, Supports Livelihoods & Employment, Ensures Public Health Services) , Economy & Society (Fosters Economic Prosperity, Ensures Social Stability, Security & Justice, Promotes Cohesive & Engaged Communities), Infrastructure & Environment(Provides Reliable Communications & Mobility, Ensures Continuity of Critical Services, Provides & Enhances Natural & Manmade Assets), and Leadership & Strategy (Promotes Leadership & Effective Management, Empowers a Broad Range of Stakeholders, Fosters Long-term & Integrated Planning).

The workshop emphasized several steps as vital to the 100RC initiative. These include the tracking and measurement of metrics in the implementation of the resiliency framework, networking with other member cities from across the world, and learning from their experiences. The implementation of the initiative itself is tied around engaging diverse stakeholders from the city and bringing together different perspectives on what resilience means. Planning and implementation of resilience initiatives is heavily dependent upon the ability of the CRO to work across government silos, bring together diverse stakeholders, and create a concrete plan for increasing the City’s resiliency based on pragmatic, local understanding of prevalent shocks and stresses. In light of the importance of this stakeholder engagement process, it is therefore imperative to evaluate the process of the first agenda-setting workshop that was organized by the 100RC initiative for the City of Atlanta last week, and assess its strengths and weaknesses for consideration towards future stakeholder- engagement processes. This is carried out below.  

Building Resiliency Through Public Engagement

Public engagement and participation are necessary for building the institutional capacity of cities (Healy 1997). Atlanta’s workshop last week was the first step in engaging the public in the process of creating a resiliency plan for the City. Feedback from participants and facilitators will be used to prioritize what shocks and stressors the CRO focuses on. During one of the activities, participants worked together to place a number of shocks and stresses on a four part grid to indicate the frequency/likelihood on the horizontal access increasing to the right, and impact on the vertical access increasing upward (see below). At the end of the activity each table shared their top three stresses and shocks with the whole group. Poverty/inequality, lack of social cohesion, lack of affordable housing, and lack of transit options were identified as a top chronic stressors by almost every group, while flooding, extreme temperatures, and infrastructure failures dominated the top acute shock lists.

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For one of the activities, participants worked together to place a number of shocks and stresses on a four-part grid to indicate the frequency/likelihood and the severity of impact of each challenge.

In the next activity each participant was given 12 stickers, which they placed on the City Resilience Framework diagram (see Figure 1 above) without discussing their choices with others–green stickers next to things the city is doing well, yellow stickers for things the city could do better, and red stickers next to things the city urgently needs to improve. At the table featured below, the green stickers were concentrated around ‘Fosters Economic Prosperity’ and ‘Ensures Public Health Services.’ There was a mix a yellow and red stickers under ‘Meets Basic Needs,’ and red clumps next to ‘Transportation’ and ‘Empowers a Broad Range of Stakeholders.’

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Participants placed stickers onto the City Resilience diagram to indicate things the city is doing well, things it could do better, and things it urgently needs to improve. (Left to right: Timothy Block, Enterprise Community Partners; Reese McCranie, Director of Communications at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport; Marshall Shepherd, Director of UGA’s Program for Atmospheric Sciences; Emma Tinsley, Fellow at the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, Inc.; and Maria Azuri, Director of Programs of Immigrant Affairs, City of Atlanta).

Underscoring many of the discussions at the workshop was the recognition that the stresses and shocks facing Atlanta are subjective, varying significantly depending on where in the city you live or work, as well as the social and financial capital to which an individual or neighborhood has access. When planning the workshop, the City intentionally invited a mix of people from the private businesses, government offices, nonprofits, community organizations and academic institutions (see Fig. 2 below for the breakdown of registered guests by sector). Of the 160 people who were registered to attend, 44 were from government (28%), 42 from nonprofits (26%), 22 from academia (14%), 19 from business (12%), 16 were elected official (10%), 16 were community members (10%), and 1 person was from a faith-based organization (less than 1%). It should be noted that the authors do not know how many from each group actually attended.

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Fig. 2: Breakdown of the participants who’d registered for the Atlanta Resilience Agenda-Setting Workshop.

 

During the last activity, participants identified stakeholders who were not in the room who they believe should be included in this planning process, such as students, members of the LGBTQ community, private sector representatives, and community members. One participant pointed out that the timing and location of the workshop (it was held at the Carter Center in Northeast Atlanta) may have prevented community members from attending if, for instance, they could not take work off on a Monday.

Global Knowledge Sharing and Local Empowerment

The 100RC initiative provides both opportunities and challenges for the City of Atlanta. Opportunities include the ability to allocate dedicated resources to identifying, tracking, and collaborating with diverse stakeholders to address the City’s vulnerability to shocks and stresses, and learning from, and sharing resources and knowledge with other cities around the world. The major challenges include enabling broad engagement in the political process by taking into account unequal access to resources, and empowering citizens to initiate collaborative problem-solving to address the issues they themselves have identified. Public participation is no longer just about hosting a public meeting to discuss already decided upon alternatives. It is about providing the public with data and resources to come up with their own solutions using their collective creativity and localized understanding of the problems.

In sum, each city has a very localized set of stresses and shocks, and the 100RC Network facilitates cities seeing how others are moving through this process of setting priorities. It enables the city to carve out a dedicated resource and hire a Chief Resilience Officer, and design and implement a resiliency plan. As it proceeds, there is a need to ensure that the subsequent data gathering, the indicators utilized for data gathering, and the resulting decision-making processes are representative and integrate the capacities and constraints of all relevant stakeholders in order to maximize the impact of planned interventions and to build inclusive and robust systems for a truly resilient Atlanta.  

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