The increased emphasis being placed by cities—small as well as large—on embedding resilience into their land use and development policies was the topic of the 2017 Resilient Cities Summit cohosted in Stowe, Vermont, by ULI, the National League of Cities, and the U.S. Green Building Council. The consensus of the participants, including mayors and other public officials representing 24 U.S. cities, along with representatives from the academic and business communities, is that the most effective plans going forward will emphasize public/private initiatives and encourage greater collaboration with the real estate industry.
Attendees noted how resilient approaches to infrastructure and development provide long-term economic benefits for cities by safeguarding their real estate assets and tax base, supporting business continuity after adverse events, and protecting residents. “More mayors are thinking about resilience in terms of making their cities more attractive and competitive, and this way of thinking is going to accelerate in the future,” said ULI member and summit participant John Macomber, professor at the Harvard Business School. “As more [weather-related] stressors occur, the more resilient cities will be the ones drawing investment and development.”
The discussions at the July 17–19 event demonstrated the many ways that communities are affected by resilience issues: Coral Evans, mayor of Flagstaff, Arizona, speculated on the possible displacement of existing residents of inland areas that could result from new residents relocating from coastal areas eroded by rising sea levels. Nancy Shaver, mayor of St. Augustine, Florida, described how saltwater has started flowing into the city’s stormwater system, posing risks related to drainage and flooding. Lisa Craig, chief of historic preservation in Annapolis, Maryland, spoke about the city’s efforts to protect its many historically significant buildings as a key part of its plan to mitigate the impact of storm surge and frequent flooding in the downtown waterfront area.
Public officials at the summit emphasized the need for more funding sources, noting diminished federal and state support for resilience programs and stretched local budgets. There was consensus among the participants that 1) new public and private projects must reinforce resilience; and 2) public/private partnerships will be critical to securing adequate funding for resilience strategies. ULI senior resident fellow and former Pittsburgh mayor Tom Murphy, a keynote speaker at the event, stressed the importance of thinking long term and making necessary, if sometimes unpopular, funding choices to strengthen community resilience. “Mayors and their cities must focus beyond immediate challenges. Changes related to new economic drivers, technology advancements, environmental concerns, and demographic shifts are redefining the rules,” Murphy said. “Cities that are succeeding are those that are reaching for the future, have an appetite for risk, and are strategic in how they commit time and resources to the needs of today and the vision for tomorrow. Most important, there has to be bold leadership and collective will to move beyond the status quo.”
“Public/private initiatives are important, because so often the private sector has the ability to be nimbler and move a little quicker than the public sector,” said ULI member and summit attendee Marina Badoian-Kriticos, research scientist at Houston Advanced Research Center. “While localities in many cases may have [resilience] policies in place to guide private development, there are times when the private sector brings best practices forward to help communities address resilience.”
“There is a learning curve associated with assessing vulnerabilities, and taking action,” noted ULI member and summit attendee Brian Swett, director of cities and sustainable real estate at ARUP. “It’s a matter of embedding it into everything you are already doing so you are reducing your vulnerabilities over time.” Implementing an effective approach requires working with other partners including philanthropic organizations and other anchor institutions in addition to the development community, he noted.
A recurring topic of discussion was the need for resilience strategies to address social equity issues. Extreme weather events tend to hit the poorest the hardest, since they have few resources for advance preparation or post-event recovery or relocation, Macomber pointed out. “Resilience is the opposite of vulnerability,” he said. “If you are going to be resilient, you have to include the most vulnerable populations in your plans.” Improving community resilience for all residents also improves livability for all, which “gets to issues about what makes a city thrive in the long term,” Macomber said.
Addressing social equity through improved resilience is included in the best practices put forward by several public officials at the summit, Badoian-Kriticos said. “This is about looking at the public policies at a regional or city level to ensure that we are creating opportunities for resilience that diminish the propensity to create vulnerable populations through development.
“We get so focused on what is happening with a single tract of land that we forget that there are implications for the greater community. That’s why it is so important [for the private and public sectors] to have thoughtful conversations about how development can create a community that is more resilient.”