Stronger cities, better lives

Michael Berkowitz, President of the 100 Resilient Cities project, tells EY how cities are working together to boost their resilience

Rockefeller Center

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As the world’s urban population continues to grow, the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100RC project aims to build a network of cities around the world to translate ideas about boosting urban resilience into action in urban areas. This is not just how cities respond to shocks such as epidemics, terror outrages, fires and floods; but also the day-to-day stresses of urban life such as poor transport systems, unaffordable housing and the lack of well-paid jobs. How can cities overcome shocks and stresses, and best produce a robust, sustainable platform on which citizens can build secure, productive lives?

It’s a big challenge, which is why 100RC is bringing together civil society, the general public, the private sector as well as philanthropy and academia to solve it. “This is a very conscious effort to try to create partnerships that we can leverage to fix some of the world’s really wicked problems,” says Michael Berkowitz, President of the 100 Resilient Cities project.

The need for greater resilience – and cross-sector partnerships

Michael’s approach to the subject is conditioned by his experience in both city government and the private sector. “You wouldn’t run a big financial services company or a big private sector company without a chief risk officer,” he says. “Someone at the very senior level who is thinking about how each decision affects the risk profile of the company.

“And yet, we don’t have the similar kind of position until now in cities.” He wants all cities to believe that “you wouldn’t run a city without a chief resilience officer any more than you would without a chief of police.”

It has only been three years since 100RC was established. Changes such as infrastructure improvements usually take far longer to come to fruition. But thanks to the core concept of introducing a Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) for cities, Michael can already point to examples of early success.

“We’ve seen cities win big competitive awards on the back of their strategies and the strength of their CROs. In Norfolk, Virginia, for example, the CRO came home with the single largest grant ever awarded to the city, of US$120 million.”

Michael is also seeing partners collaborate in different, meaningful ways. “Swiss Re, the reinsurer, and Veolia, the French infrastructure giant, are working to fund improvements in the New Orleans water system. That partnership came directly out of this engagement. Those are the kind of innovative solutions we’re hoping to be able to bring to cities.”

Sharing successes across the 100RC network – and beyond

While individual successes are good, for lasting results to be achieved, some common success factors need to be identified and then shared.

Forging common approaches across a global network of cities is one of 100RC’s biggest challenges. How are they tackling it? “At times it’s painful, because cities want to do things their own way,” says Michael. “But one of the ways that we’ve been able to get this collaboration going is to make them go through a similar process. That allows them to have experiences to compare. So where you get, say, 12 CROs together who have all gone through a similar process, all using the same terminology, all framing resilience in basically the same way, it’s really powerful and that’s when the network really starts to pop.”

Common approaches also help prepare the pitch for the private sector partners to apply their solutions across different cities. “If cities are all bespoke, it’s much harder to enter that ecosystem. If they start to organize in similar ways, we can scale solutions and really start to move the needle and fix cities in powerful ways,” says Michael.

And the 100RC approach to risk and resilience is already spreading. “Other cities that aren’t in the network are copying the model,” says Michael. “We’ve seen cities naming their own chief resilience officers and adopting this idea of holistic resilience. So the fact that it’s spreading even without us having to do that is amazing. The goal is not to change 100 cities, the goal is to change every city around the world.”