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September 18, 2017
by Ayo Yusuf and Daniel Horn

As our co-existence with natural systems is pushed to limits, cities and communities are having to face some harsh realities. As was the case during Sandy, and most recently with Harvey in Houston, Texas and Irma in the State of Florida, we are witnessing the incredible scale of property destruction, severely compromised infrastructure, and the disruption of lives. Communities are now facing the prospect of long recoveries from the aftermath of these extreme events.

Appropriately, the third AIANY Civic Leadership Program (CLP) development session, held on 09.08.17 and organized in two parts, focused on the resultant transformations these impacted communities will be forced to undergo, particularly through the lens of resilience. Part 1 of the session kicked off with a site visit to Wagner Park in Lower Manhattan, where the group was joined by Jamie Rogers, Chair of Manhattan Community Board (CB) 3, and Diana Switaj, Director of Planning and Land Use at Manhattan CB1. The group discussed anticipated lower Manhattan transformations: “The BIG U” Rebuild by Design Proposal + Wagner Park Resilience Plan (the former has since advanced into two key ONENYC Projects that have received federal funding), the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency Project (LMCR), and the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project (ESCR).

Rogers and Switaj briefly outlined the LMCR differences and commonalities between both CBs and described how task forces are put together on such city resilience projects. They also shared with the group the community’s experiences, including a few comments on the community boards’ connections to resilience policy and personal thoughts and ideas on how project implementation hold-ups could be minimized within their respective districts. CB1’s participation in the Wagner Park Project was also highlighted, especially in the context of how it fits into the overall picture of a comprehensive protection system for lower Manhattan and the project’s unique position to be a demonstration project for the city.

For Part 2, the group reconvened at the Center for Architecture to tackle the topic on a macro-scale – and through the work of 100 Resilient Cities (100RC). Tanya Gallo, who heads the organization’s Strategy Partner Network, joined us for a discussion centered around policy frameworks for cities as developed by 100RC (32 cities have developed their resilience strategies), the strategy development process, and the critical step of the institutionalization of Chief Resilience Officers (CROs). 78 CROs have been hired/appointed to lead their cities’ cross-agency resilience efforts.

This part of the session focused on the word “resilience” itself, with the understanding that developing a global resilience movement, such as 100RC, relies on a common and shared language. Discussions also focused on metrics for measuring impact, the importance of social networks, the critical roles platform and strategy partners strategy partners play to the network, the success of the recent Global Summit (takeaways yet to be published), and thoughts on how architects can engage cities under this effort as cities change their governing strategies in relation to resiliency.

With resilience-transformation perspectives provided from both a community level and a global perspective, the group was able to engage in more nuanced discussions on resiliency, recovery, and reconstruction. In addition to learning about resilience principles and practices and how they might be applied to design and built environment challenges, the group also got to examine the architect’s role in advocating for resilience thinking at multiple scales. For cities, it’s not about them not having resources, but about how they are able to effectively leverage the resources they do have. Lest we forget, the resilience conversation is largely about encouraging humility in the face of complexity and unpredictability. Failure is a likely possibility and outcome because there are obvious limits to human foresight. Resilience assumes that we don’t have all the answers, but that we shouldn’t stop asking questions; that we’ll often not like the answers, but that shouldn’t stop us searching. It assumes that we’ll make mistakes, but that these shouldn’t stop us trying to find better and more equitable solutions.

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