Michael Berkowitz of 100 Resilient Cities on the social side of the 'resilience dividend'

At the announcement at WUF7 this week of Santiago Uribe Rocha's appointment as Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) for the city of Medellín, Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin spoke of a "resilience dividend," which she described as a set of economic benefits tied to the development of urban resilience. We asked Michael Berkowitz, Managing Director of the Rockefeller Foundation's 100 Resilient Cities initiative, what the social component of such a resilience dividend might be.

Q. Does the emphasis on culture, civil society, and community participation in the selection of Santiago Uribe Rocha as Medellín's new Chief Resilience Officer mean that you also see a resilience dividend on the social side — in terms of engaging civil society and bridging formality and informality, for instance?

Absolutely. It's sort of a two-way street. To back up: In some ways, when we look at many of the most resilient cities, they're the ones with the strongest social networks, the most inclusive ties. I mean, look at the places where this fails. You can think of the Arab Spring as the most extreme example, where you had this massive chasm between the haves and the have-nots: one fruit vendor in Tunis set himself on fire, and basically the whole region is now in flames. We also look at New York in the 1977 blackout, where most of the Bronx — the South Bronx, at least — and parts of Brooklyn burned for a week. And we look at the 2003 blackout, which had a completely different outcome. Those outcomes have to do with the way in which those communities were tied together. I'm not suggesting that New York is perfect now, but it's clearly much better off than it was in 1977. So one of the things we're looking at is how to tie into existing community-building efforts with the resilience labs, and just feed those efforts.

Q. You've made it clear that Medellin was chosen for the 100 Resilient Cities initiative, in part, because it has developed that strong and resilient social fabric to some degree already. What propagation mechanisms do you envision to carry those messages, ideas, structures, and best practices to other cities — especially given the diversity of the cities and cultures involved?

I think that's part of the challenge with 100 Resilient Cities. The inspirational part is that it's so broad and diverse and global, with different sizes and types of cities, but that's also a challenge. I mean, how much is what's done in Medellín replicable in other places? We're developing ways to talk about those sorts of successes. I would say that we're early days, so we don't have them yet, but we do see lots of interest.

At our announcement, Mitch Landrieu, the mayor of New Orleans, was on a panel with Claudia Restrepo, who is one of the deputy mayors here in Medellín. As you may know, New Orleans is struggling mightily with a murder epidemic. So they were beginning to talk about that.

One of the ways in which Medellín solved that problem was the transportation intervention: they built the gondolas, they built the escalators, they built the bus rapid transit, and they connected disconnected barrios to the economic center — and in a way, that was powerful. When you think about New Orleans, and the Ninth Ward, and the problems that they experience there, there are lots of similar issues. You still have to do gang interdiction and law enforcement and so on, but there also may be other ways to address that. Those are the sorts of things we're thinking about.

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