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Michael Berkowitz, a former New York City emergency planner and Deutsche Bank risk manager, is trying to get the world’s cities to rethink how they prepare for and price disasters. Berkowitz now oversees a nonprofit created by the Rockefeller Foundation called 100 Resilient Cities.
So far, the network is helping 67 cities become more resilient to sudden shocks, along with endemic challenges such as poverty and migration. Bloomberg BNA’s Andrea Vittorio sat down with Berkowitz last week on the sidelines of the Climate Action Summit in Washington, D.C., to talk about what happens after it hits 100 later this month.Bloomberg BNA:
This summit is all about climate change. But the way you talk about resilience, it’s more than just climate change. So first, could you define resilience for me?Michael Berkowitz:
Urban resilience is a city’s ability to survive disaster. But not just the sudden disasters that we generally think about when we hear that term. Things like hurricanes, earthquakes, flooding, terrorism.
It’s also the long-term, slow-burning disasters. Things we call chronic stresses. Long-term food, water or energy shortage. High levels of crime and violence. Shifting macroeconomic trends that disadvantage a particular city.
And what urban resilience does is try to position a city in the strongest possible way to survive whatever the next potential disaster is.
So how do you persuade cities to spend money on building resilience? And how is the business case different from, say, a climate mitigation project where they could save X amount of dollars on energy?Berkowitz:
Cities and countries are going to spend billions of dollars on climate mitigation to meet the commitments from [the Paris climate accord] and beyond. What a resilience lens tries to do is to get them to think about how to spend that better.
So if Paris is going to re-engineer its transportation system or change its building codes or roll out a new bike-share and cycling lanes to meet carbon and climate commitments, wouldn’t it be interesting if they also looked at that from an inclusion standpoint?
How do they integrate the new immigrants from West and North Africa? How would you change where your cycle lanes are or your zoning or where you choose to put the next economic development zone so that you are both able to lower the carbon footprint of your city but also be more inclusive and more equitable, which are things that in the long term will make your city more resilient?Bloomberg BNA:
If you had to describe the business case for resilience, then what would it be?Berkowitz:
If you think about it just in terms of the shocks—that is, low frequency but high-impact events—then that gets very hard to price. I spent the 1990s talking about a Hurricane Sandy-type scenario in New York but it took about 20 years in order for that to materialize. Really it could have taken another 30 years.
If you think about somewhere in California that’s vulnerable to seismic activity— yeah, the San Andreas fault is overdue for a slip, but that ‘overdue’ could be this year or next year, 50 years or 300 years from now. In geologic time, that’s virtually no time at all.
So what’s interesting about the resilience that I’m describing is integrating the chronic stresses, things that cost cities every day, every year. Things like overtaxed infrastructure, things like air quality and pollution, chronic waterborne illness as a result of flooding that we see throughout the developing world.
If you’re able to price that in, then you’re able to see an economic benefit much sooner and make the case for resilience in a much more immediate and tangible way.Bloomberg BNA:
Now that you’ve announced the first two rounds of winning cities, you have one round left on May 25. What happens after that? Once you hit 100 cities, are you finished or do you do 100 more?Berkowitz:
It’s a great question. A couple of things: one is it’s not just naming the cities. It’s not just hiring chief resilience officers [CROs] and writing resilience strategies. It’s actually helping the cities implement what’s in the strategies that will change them and provide good examples of resilient actions and interventions.
So part of what we’re trying to do is to stay connected as partners to these cities. You don’t build infrastructure, you don’t change planning, you don’t improve community cohesion in one or two or three years. It’s a generational struggle.
How do we stay connected to the cities over five, 10, 15 years so we can continue to be good partners and help cities meet the various challenges along the way in their different projects? That’s one thing we’re thinking about—how we can be sustainable over the long term, not just a couple of years, but in fact real partners.
The second thing is we’re trying to inspire a revolution in cities about how they view their risks and opportunities. We’re trying to permanently change the concept of how you run a city. That you wouldn’t run a city anymore without a CRO than you would without a chief of police. Not just in 100 cities but in the 10,000 cities that are around the world, depending on how you count them.
We haven’t quite figured out how to make that leap from 100 as a test case. That’s why the 100 are so diverse. They’re scattered across six continents. They’re in 40 countries. They’re big cities like Bangkok and Mexico City and New York and London. And they’re small cities like Ramallah, Palestine and Vejle, Denmark and Enugu, Nigeria and everywhere in between. How to get from this 100 to the 10,000 is something that we’re still working on.
To contact the reporter on this story: Andrea Vittorio in Washington at email@example.com
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