Hotter, Wetter, Wilder

Toronto Unveils Resilience Strategy in Wake of 100 Resilient Cities Closure

In 2013 The Rockefeller Foundation donated $164 million to start the 100 Resilient Cities initiative that was designed to increase “the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.” They use the term resilience to group together what they saw as interconnected problems of climate change and inequality. To do this they brought together cities from all over the world to give financial and logistical guidance for city governments to appoint a Chief Resilience Officer, support for the development of a robust Resilience Strategy, access to solutions and partners to implement their strategies and membership to a global network of member cities.

By most accounts, including this recent study by the Urban Institute, the program seemed to be working. But, to the surprise of the members and staff who saw this as a long term strategy, the program heads announced that they would be shutting it down in June of this year. In a somewhat vague statement on their website the 100 Resilient Cities leadership said:

“As more and more cities begin to implement strategies and institutionalize resilience, our organization must also evolve to continue the work of this global network.

To that end, The Rockefeller Foundation has made the decision to transition the work of 100 Resilient Cities into at least three separate pathways: a new Resilience Office within the Foundation, supporting place-based resilience work within new economic mobility efforts at the Foundation in the United States, and funding a resilience effort at the Atlantic Council.”

While they used the words “transition” instead of “close” it did leave a lot of people wondering what the lasting impacts of such a short-lived program might be. Well, it turns out that the idea of urban resiliency is living on, if not as a part of a global partnership then as an ongoing part of certain city’s plans. On Tuesday Toronto released its first “Resilience Strategy,” in which the city’s newly appointed Chief Resiliency Officer said that “the pace and scale of change in this city is unique: a ‘hotter, wetter, wilder’ climate; incredible growth and change in our built environment; and a globalized population where more than half of Torontonians were born outside of Canada.” The document was created after a months-long effort that got input from an army of experts as well as 8,000 citizens.

The plan has a lot of different action items that include a tool to help residents understand flood risks, such as a Basement Flooding Protection Program and an efficiency upgrade incentive. It also made resiliency, both elemental and equalitarian, as one of the lenses for which it examines future building permits.

So, it might turn out that even though the 100 Resilient Cities program is no longer around, its legacy might be living on. Only part of the benefit of the program was meant to be monetary, after all, so the main effect might be the introduction of the importance of resilience on a city-wide level. The real test, though, will be how cities less-affluent than Toronto, which are arguably more susceptible to major changes in the climate and the economy, will be able to adopt this idea. Toronto’s plan seems like a win but there will certainly be many more, harder fought battles needed to create stronger cities across the globe.

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