08.08.17 | By Cyrus Philbrick

In this time of dysfunctional national and international governance, cities have a unique opportunity to fill a void in leadership. Can a group of U.S. and world cities model the kinds of networked, scalable solutions we need to create a more resilient world? One big-thinking international project is betting that cities can and will.

100 Resilient Cities (100RC) is a collaborative project pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation, “dedicated to helping cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century.” The project aims to provide 100 cities with the necessary resources and support to develop an effective “roadmap to resilience.” As one tool for accomplishing this, 100RC is funding a new government position for all participating cities: a Chief Resilience Officer will spearhead each city’s resilience strategy. As another tool, 100RC is supporting the city network by providing access to solutions and partners from the private, public, and NGO sectors.

Enter Earth Economics. As an organization committed to re-thinking how all levels of government prioritize green infrastructure and establish long-term funding sources, Earth Economics staff support the 100RC network by valuing cities’ natural assets and helping to design better ways to return to a balance between nature and development.

Executive Director Matt Chadsey recently participated in 100RC’s 2017 Urban Resilience Summit, which brought together Chief Resilience Officers as well as strategy and platform partners from cities around the world. Held from July 25th to 28th, the summit turned New York City into a living laboratory for urban resilience, helping leaders from around the world to build a global urban network and observe many of New York’s standard-setting resilience projects.

As part of the conference, Chadsey and a team from Melbourne, Australia designed and led a Living Lab, Improving City Resilience with Urban Biodiversity. The day-long session explored the ways that urban greenspace can benefit a city using the Jamaica Bay park system as a lab space.

Adam Parris and team at the Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay leading a site visit to ecological census and restoration locations in Bayswater Park, New York.  Photo by Matt Chadsey.

Adam Parris and team at the Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay leading a site visit to ecological census and restoration locations in Bayswater Park, New York. Photo by Matt Chadsey.

“One of the things we saw as part of the tour was what a treasure Jamaica Bay is for New York City,” Chadsey noted. “Only a few miles from Manhattan and you can truly get lost in nature!”

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is one of eleven parks that make up the Gateway National Recreation Area, which welcomes nearly 10 million visitors every year. That’s more than twice the number seen by an icon like Grand Canyon National Park.

The recreation opportunities in a space like Jamaica Bay may not sound as adventurous or daring as those available in remote wilderness areas, but they’re just as diverse. Besides serving as a place for beach walks, biking, and running, park programs include ecology walks, kayak and canoeing trips, history tours, urban camping, and birding. Birding opportunities are especially rich. According to the New York Harbor Parks website, over 330 bird species—or about half of all Northeast bird species—have been sighted at the Wildlife Refuge in the last 25 years.

In addition to providing biodiversity and recreational opportunities, Jamaica Bay also serves valuable infrastructure purposes. It acts as a natural storm and flood buffer for the city and nearby communities. The bay also protects freshwater sources for birds and wildlife.

After Hurricane Sandy collapsed a berm that separates the Sound’s saltwater from one of the city’s freshwater bodies, the National Park Service decided to invest in restoring and maintaining the berm as a cost-effective natural solution to create a storm buffer, a vital bird habitat, and a protected freshwater supply.  

For Chadsey, one takeaway from the Summit is that many cities are taking steps toward including nature as an important resilience-building tool, but much work still needs to be done. “We need to get better at defining benefits and connecting stakeholders,” Chadsey said. “Great natural solutions often require cross-functional collaborations to define, fund, and implement. Cities and partners will need to continue to practice flexibility and creativity to reintroduce nature to their cities at the scale necessary to build long-term resilience.”

If cities around the world are really going to function as a global network, as a superstructure geared toward resilience solutions, then they need to speak the same ecological and financial languages. And this is a challenge that Earth Economics welcomes. If the 21st century is indeed the age of cities, then we need organizations that facilitate solutions between geographies and levels of government. This is the type of thinking at which Earth Economics excels.


Banner Photo Credit: kathryn via Flickr