News and analysis
May 14, 2013

Rockefeller Pledges $100-Million to Help 100 Cities Cope With Crises

Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

This picture taken October 31, 2012 in New York shows cars piled on top of each other at the entrance to a garage in Lower Manhattan after Hurricane Sandy.

The Rockefeller Foundation today announced a three-year, $100-million effort to help 100 cities around the world develop plans to become more resilient to catastrophes.

The funds will be used to hire “chief resilience officers” in each of the cities who will coordinate efforts to help withstand shocks due to climate change, economic collapses, terrorist attacks, and pandemics.

“No city can perfectly predict where its next shock will come from,” said Judith Rodin, the foundation’s president. “Resiliency is about building in the capacity to respond more effectively to those shocks—to bounce back more quickly and emerge stronger no matter what the shock is.”

The new effort was announced to mark the 100th year, to the day, that the foundation was incorporated.

Ms. Rodin said Rockefeller will announce the winners of what it is calling the 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge in thirds over the next three years. That timetable suggests that 33 or 34 cities will be announced by the end of 2013, with the rest to follow in each of the next two years.

Grant applicants, which can be city governments or major institutions within a city, will be evaluated based on their plans for building greater resilience in a way that meets the needs of the poor and vulnerable.

Sharing Strategies

Rockefeller, which helped develop the field of urban planning, already has a fair amount of experience with cities and resilience. The foundation has spent several hundred million dollars to develop climate-change resilience in Africa and Asia, helping communities survive challenges posed by storms, floods, eroding coastlines, heat waves, and droughts.

Ms. Rodin also co-chaired a commission formed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to examine ways to guard against storms like Hurricane Sandy.

The network of 100 cities will share with one another the approaches that work best in much the same way that officials in New Orleans have shared their experiences recovering from Katrina with officials in New Jersey and New York who are overseeing Sandy recovery efforts.

Rockefeller believes resilient cities share four characteristics, Ms. Rodin says:

• Flexibility to change and evolve following disasters.

• Redundancy in services, so that if one part of the system fails, the other one can come in.

• Options for “safe failure,” so that a single problem can be isolated and not take down an entire system.

• Robust feedback loops, so that new options for action can be rapidly incorporated.

Ms. Rodin says a good example of a change that will build greater resiliency is the recommendation by the post-Sandy commission that New York State adopt smart-grid technology. The smart grid would allow the state to use a different source of energy if one source fails, or pull more energy from a unaffected geographical area to one that is experiencing outages.

Money for Infrastructure

Rockefeller is separately exploring innovative ways to pay for massive public infrastructure needs, and it expects to use that expertise to help the cities chosen for the resiliency network.

The foundation has provided grants worth $750,000, for example, to help California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia figure out how to get private investors interested in helping pay for new infrastructure projects that are expected to exceed $1-trillion in the next 30 years.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu already has set a goal to make the city more resilient by 2018, says Brooke Smith, the mayor’s director of strategic partnerships. The city plans to apply this year for a grant from Rockefeller’s resilient-cities challenge.

“This is the perfect time to take the planning by the mayor and external partners and bring it all under one umbrella,” Ms. Smith says.