Urban Resilience Summit Brings Resilience Leaders from Around the World

Category: Climate

During the week of July 24, 2017, an impressive group of experts and practitioners from all over the world gathered in New York City to talk about urban resilience at the 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) Urban Resilience Summit.  The summit united Chief Resilience Officers (or CROs) and their staff, strategy partners (organizations that provide strategic guidance to member cities), platform partners (organizations, like AGU’s TEX, that provide a specific service to cities), and 100RC staff to examine resilience strategies, provide access to platform partner resources, discuss strategies for community-based collaboration, and provide insights into urban resilience strategies.  Like our other partners, TEX provides 100RC city leaders the opportunity to connect with both local and remote pro bono Earth and space scientists to advance climate change, natural hazards and natural resources-related priorities.

As part of the summit, TEX partnered with Rebuild By Design to host a workshop on using community engagement strategies to collaboratively design resilience projects.  The workshop highlighted San Juan, Puerto Rico’s efforts to create a resilient city by addressing not only flooding and other extreme weather challenges, but by connecting those efforts to goals related to dealing with inequality, unemployment and economic depression.  City leaders aim to promote water justice, foster accessible and connected communities and collaboratively design their vision of a resilient San Juan. 

Through community visioning and shared development of goals, the city walked through Rebuild By Design’s planning process in a holistic manner.  San Juan’s CRO led the session with three other cities looking to learn from their experience.  In break-out tables, the CROs of Athens, Greece; Tel Aviv, Israel; and Honolulu, USA, gathered together with platform and strategy partners, 100RC staff and specially selected New York-based AGU scientists to explore and outline each cities’ resilience challenges, collaborative research areas and questions and to mobilize talent and collaborators. 

In addition to selecting appropriate AGU scientific candidates with relevant scientific experience, TEX staff gave a brief presentation on the TEX process, its benefits to cities and provided some examples of TEX projects in action. At the end of the 2-hour session each city had the building blocks of a plan for their communities.  We think the CROs were excited to receive the input and guidance in this focused session!

Another major highlight of the conference was the various “Living Labs” (or field trips) that took place concurrently across New York City’s five boroughs. 

Natasha participated in the Jamaica Bay Urban Biodiversity Living Lab, where participants toured urban biodiversity and learned about the importance of preserving biodiversity. One standout moment was when the CRO of Durban, South Africa commented that cities in the Global South must take heed to protect natural resources and biodiversity before they are overrun by urbanism, since many of these cities can’t be expected to have access to the level of funding cities in the United States can spend on reclaiming threatened biodiversity. 

Sarah participated in a Living Lab entitled “Starting the Resilience Conversation from the Community Perspective,” which toured the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens, NY.  The Rockaways were hit hard during Hurricane Sandy and the impacts of the storm are evident across the peninsula.  We toured areas actively in the process of rebuilding.  Due to its isolated nature, the peninsula is hard to reach by public transportation and finds itself often at a disadvantage when it comes to vital social and emergency services.  The Eastern Rockaways are largely home to low income, minority communities with scant access to natural spaces, grocery stores and community resources.  The City of New York, together with 100RC, is working to change this through community visioning meetings, the construction of affordable and resilient housing and the establishment of community gardens.  We enjoyed lunch at a community center focused on youth empowerment, took in the view of the Atlantic, Jamaica Bay and Manhattan from the top of an affordable housing building, and spoke to a longtime resident of Broad Channel about his community’s efforts to elevate homes above flood levels.  Additionally, I enjoyed participating in a session led by the CRO from Sydney, Australia and her team, even learning some new and fun meeting activities to modify for TEX!

At the end of the day, the Jamaica Bay field trip and Rockaways group convened at a local bar and restaurant for some good food and company.  While preserving biodiversity remains a substantial challenge and flooding troubles aren’t going away anytime soon, we saw evidence that New York City and its partners are working to bolster the area’s communities and environment in ways that ensure trust and buy-in–by engaging and empowering the community along all steps of the planning process.

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