The Rockefeller Foundation, this year celebrating its 100th anniversary, is throwing its weight (and its money) behind this mandate. Today, it’s announcing a 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge, a three-year, $100 million prize with one particularly interesting component: The foundation plans to put up the money to hire a Chief Resilience Officer position in 100 cities around the world. Ultimately, though, these cities will have to scrounge up their own funds to keep the job alive.
Had anyone heard of this initiative? I hadn’t, and I’m impressed that a foundation as prestigious as Rockefeller is embracing the resilience concept. Until recently, in my view at least, “resilience” was an idea more or less regulated to homeland security, health, and other related fields. It would emerge immediately following a large event, whether natural or man-made, but just as quickly disappear from the public eye.
Rockefeller Foundation money does not equal widespread acceptance nor understanding, but I would argue that it is a sign that the concept is firmly entrenched in the public discourse and will not quietly pass into that good night if the next federal administration/round of homeland security “experts” decides to go in another direction.
It appears that this came about partly because of the threat of climate change:
Rockefeller is inviting cities to apply to be one of these 100 resilient cities – to be named in three rounds over the next three years – by arguing for how they’re working to become “resilient.” Rockefeller wants to then help them create a resilience plan, preemptively sketching out how they would address any number of catastrophes including but beyond climate change.
“We see it as broader than that,” Coleman says. “It’s really about how cities are able to deal with shocks and stresses. Those could be climate-related, or more general weather-related. But they could be other natural disasters like earthquakes. They could also be things like financial shocks and stresses – something we’ve seen a lot of over the last few years. Or health crises. Really anything that is going to test the city and its response.”
The foundation is thinking about the long term:
“We feel that having someone specifically tasked with thinking about and acting on and planning for resilience will mean that other people within the city government will need to pay – and will be required to pay – attention to the issue,” he says. “They won’t be able to ignore it. Or, what tends to happen more often is not that it’s ignored, but it’s put on the back burner because it’s not seen as a priority until something happens.”
Maybe this will be one of those jobs that becomes obsolete through its own success: When “resiliency” is baked into everything a city does, we won’t need resilience officers any more.
I have to admit, I’d love one of these positions. I also have to admit, that the best individuals for the job would be both well versed in the concept of resilience while also being among the movers and shakers in their local governments. This will not be an easy position — inherently tough choices will be faced, no matter the local conditions. It will, or at least should, require some level of political acumen that can best provide an opportunity for resilience-related initiatives to blossom.
For now, Rockefeller is unaware of any city already hosting a job quite like this one, so it’s hard to say exactly how the role will work (or what a qualified candidate might look like). Perhaps some mix of urban/transportation planner and sustainability officer and emergency manager? All of those jobs already exist, so it will be interesting to see how the people who hold them view the arrival of this new official tasked with reporting directly to the mayor.
(h/t to Dawn Scarola for sharing this concept and article.)