Connecting state and local government leaders

Seeking ‘Resilience Dividends’ With City Investments

The Ferry Terminal is located along San Francisco's Embarcadero.

The Ferry Terminal is located along San Francisco's Embarcadero. Shutterstock

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

“For every dollar spent, you want to achieve multiple benefits,” according to the chief resilience officer in Boulder, Colorado.

Resilience officers and budget and finance officials from cities around the U.S. gathered this week in Boulder, Colorado to discuss some of the areas where their work overlaps and to look for additional ways they might be able to collaborate.

Urban resilience is a field that focuses on improving the ability of communities to withstand both acute shocks like floods, hurricanes and terrorist attacks and chronic sources of stress, like high rates of unemployment or violent crime, or inefficient transportation systems.

Resilience initiatives—consider earthquake safety, for instance—can span multiple agencies and groups of stakeholders. For this reason, the initiatives don’t always mesh well with the rigid structure of city budgets, which tend to be compartmentalized and organized by department.

“It’s no longer good enough just to do a seismic repair to a seawall,” Brian Strong, San Francisco’s chief resilience officer, said during a call with Route Fifty on Tuesday.

“It needs to be a seismic repair that also addresses sea level rise, that also helps promote economic development for the parts of your city that are seeing high unemployment levels.”

Greg Guibert, chief resilience officer for the city of Boulder, highlighted a term: “resilience dividend.”

“For every dollar spent, you want to achieve multiple benefits,” he explained.

Experts in the fields of finance, insurance and credit ratings also took part in this week’s workshop, which was held on Monday and Tuesday by the city of Boulder and the group 100 Resilient Cities, an initiative of the Rockefeller Foundation.

In addition to representatives from Boulder and San Francisco, officials from Dallas; the Miami area; Honolulu; New Orleans; Norfolk, Virginia; and Pittsburgh also attended the event.

San Francisco, Strong pointed out, is a place with no shortage of resilience challenges.

“We’re dealing with sea level rise, earthquakes and a housing crisis,” he said. “We have all kinds of infrastructure needs.” And the population of San Francisco is expected to grow, he said, by around 30 percent in the next two decades. About 870,000 people live there now.

Strong noted that resilience officers are similar to their budget and finance colleagues in that they tend to work across departments and levels within city government.

“But we realize that we don’t always speak the same language,” he said.

“If you think about long-term sustainability, or resilient economy, or a resilient budget, you would expect a lot of our objectives to be aligned,” Strong added.

Finding ways to improve communication and identify common goals were among the goals of this week’s event.

“I think one of the things that has been really striking in the conversation is the extent to which the budget is actually sort of a communication vehicle,” Guibert said as he discussed the workshop. “It is a very clear articulation of a community’s priorities,” he added.

Kate Knuth, chief resilience officer for the city of Minneapolis, was among those who attended the workshop. “Our cities develop budgets. That is a basic thing that our cities do,” she said.

“The process for developing that budget is a regular way the city has a conversation about who it is and the kind of future it is trying to make,” Knuth added. “As chief resilience officers, how do we think about using that process, or helping improve that process?”

Asked about some of her takeaways from the workshop, Knuth noted that part of the job of a resilience officer is to think about risk, but that it’s important to remember there are other people within city government who do the same, albeit in different ways, like managers and auditors.

“I’m going to be making more connections with those folks when I go back,” Knuth said.

The workshop spurred Strong to think about how to communicate ideas that have to do with urban resilience more effectively. “How do we continue to educate and engage people in these discussions,” he said, “around what the future of our city should look like.”

Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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