Night scene of New York City

Building resilience in a city that never sleeps

“Where sustainability aims to put the world back into balance, resilience looks for ways to manage in an imbalanced world.”

In early January this year I was living and working in New York city, albeit briefly.  The main purpose of the work was to gain insights and share experiences related to organisational resilience and city-wide resilience.

Like many cities in the world New York has experienced a number of significant disruptions and continues to face a range of known risks and emerging threats.  Within a short time of being in the city it became clear that a ‘planning and preparation mindset’  has become a way of life for people living in the city and organisations operating in the city.

The preparation mindset has been enabled by bringing some of the brightest minds together and ensuring alignment between response agencies, private enterprise and individuals; all working together to ensure that they are prepared to respond to a range of risks.

Aside from being a landmark city, New York  is now one of the leading cities in the world committed to becoming more resilient.

Why build resilience?

Many  events have occurred within New York that could have been the catalyst for the city to shift the focus onto building resilience but it was Hurricane Sandy, that resulted in the death of 43 people and US$19Bn in damage, that brought the need to build resilience into the fore.

On November 15, 2012, Governor Andrew Cuomo convened the NYS2100 Commission to examine and evaluate key vulnerabilities in the State’s critical infrastructure systems, and to recommend actions that should be taken to strengthen and improve the resilience of those systems.  The findings were detailed in the NYC2100 Report.

I read the report at the time that it was released, as it was one of the first of its kind on city focused resilience around the world.  Another interesting article published in the New York Times at the time was called Learning to Bounce Back: Forget Sustainability its about Resilience.  The article peaked my interest as resilience was not yet a mainstream topic and sustainability had far greater awareness, investment and relevance than resilience.  The article has some great quotes including the one at the beginning of this article.

Developing a preparation mindset

Since the findings of the NYC2100 report were released, signification investments have been made and on June 11, 2013, the City released “A Stronger, More Resilient New York”, a 430 page document that seeks to learn from past events, understand the risks that the city faces as well as actionable recommendations both for rebuilding communities impacted and increasing the resilience of infrastructure and buildings citywide.

100 Resilient Cities 

Judith Rodin President of the Rockefeller Foundation was Co-Chair of the NYS2100 Commission.    In 2013 the Rockefeller Foundation pioneered the 100 Resilient Cities (100RC), 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. 100RC supports the adoption and incorporation of a view of resilience that includes not just the shocks—earthquakes, fires, floods, etc.—but also the stresses that weaken the fabric of a city on a day to day or cyclical basis.

The 100RC began working with the first group of 32 cities in December of 2013. In 2014, they received 330 applications from 94 countries for the second cohort.   Sydney is now one of the 100 Resilient cities.

New York, like many cities in the world, is an enormously complex and vibrant city that is vulnerable to a range of potential disruptions but the preparation mindset, the alignment between individuals and organisations and the investments being made, all contribute to building confidence and resilience.

Back in Australia we have also had a number of resilience initiatives underway and the Federal Government has done a great deal in the area of resilience over the past decade, particularly with critical infrastructure providers.   Infact it was our  now Governor General, His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd) who said back in 2006 that “Australia has some of the best men and women leaders who can withstand business shocks standing on their feet” but that we needed to factor into our busy lives the “capability to deal with major disruptions and to develop a preparation mindset.”

If you are responsible for, or interested in building resilience I highly recommend reviewing the two reports and one article referenced in this post or you can contact me directly via natalie.botha@janellis.com.au.

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