How 100 Cities Built Resilience

It’s a new organization with an initiative that supports a new global role, for which it recently created an entirely new conference. And, without exaggeration, it deals with issues of a life-and-death nature.

“It” is 100 Resilient Cities, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation and launched in 2013, with the ambitious goal of helping 100 cities around the world develop the capacity to prepare for the increasing shocks and stressors of the coming century. 100 Resilient Cities defines “resilience” as “the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow, no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.” And with 75 percent of the world’s population expected to live in cities by 2050, the need for support is great.

Cities must apply to be selected for the 100 Resilient Cities network, for which they receive financial and logistical guidance for establishing a pioneering new role in city government — a chief resilience officer (CRO), who will lead the city’s resilience efforts. In addition, cities in the network are given access to solutions, service providers, and partners from the private, public, and NGO sectors who can help them implement resilience strategies — as well as opportunities to learn from each other.

We see the meetings industry as a key part of building resilience in the city. If a city has a vibrant economy and if people visit and want to see the city, it is entirely more resilient.

There were 32 inaugural cities named in December 2013. Last month, 100 Resilient Cities selected the second group — 35 cities that “demonstrated a dedicated commitment to building their own capacities to prepare for, withstand, and bounce back rapidly from shocks and stresses” — out of 331 applications in seven languages from 94 countries.


“We go out of our way to think and talk about resilience as something that’s broader than just disasters,” said Max Young, director of global communications and marketing for 100 Resilient Cities. “When we talk about resilience, we talk about the shocks and the stresses. Shocks are what everyone thinks of — fires, floods, earthquakes, or hurricanes. But we also talk about stresses, which are things that attack the city on a day-to-day basis — chronic food and water shortages, or a refugee crisis, or endemic crime, or a lack of economic opportunities for the residents of the city.”

Economic resilience is critical to a city’s overall resilience. “If you look at Detroit, it wasn’t a hurricane that destroyed the city,” Young said. “It was changing macroeconomic stresses and an overreliance on one industry.” Meetings, Young said, have a role to play in that: “We see the meetings industry as a key part of building resilience in the city. If a city has a vibrant economy and if people visit and want to see the city, it is entirely more resilient.”

A CRO might work with his or her city’s destination-marketing organization during the six- to nine-month process of building a comprehensive resilience plan. “During that resilience-strategy process, the CRO brings in a wide variety of stakeholders to help understand what are the threats and what are the opportunities for the city,” Young said. “So someone who is in charge of bringing visitors and conventions and tourism dollars to the city could absolutely be part of that process.”


Beyond recognizing meetings as an economic driver, 100 Resilient Cities believes in the value of face-to-face experience for its newly minted CROs, organizing the inaugural annual Chief Resilience Officer Summit in New Orleans on Nov. 5–8, 2014. The summit brought together 26 CROs or resilience liaisons from around the world — “people from as close as Norfolk, Virginia, New York City, to places like Mandalay; Myanmar; Da Nang, Vietnam; Bangkok, Thailand; and Durban, South Africa,” Young said. About 30 other attendees came from global consulting firms who work with 100 Resilient Cities, as well as engineers, technical advisers, and resilience experts. “And then we had a number of our platform partners who are our private-sector, academic-sector, not-for-profit-sector partners,” he said, “who are providing resilience-building tools to our cities, including the American Institute of Architects, which helps cities understand building codes and design and stuff like that.”

Among the conference’s goals was to build skills and expertise among the fledgling CRO community, “helping them understand how to identify the problems in their cities and identify the solutions,” Young said. But the larger goal was just “helping them get to know each other, because a big part of our program is connecting chief resilience officers from around the world.” Often, a city will try to solve a crisis “starting from scratch, because they don’t know that another city has already solved this problem. We work to connect them with one another so that they help solve each other’s problems. So Colombia can learn about earthquake resilience from San Francisco. And San Francisco can learn about community cohesion from Boulder, etc. So it’s part bonding.”

Choosing New Orleans for the first conference was deliberate. “We used New Orleans as a learning laboratory for resilience,” Young said. “So obviously, New Orleans experienced [Hurricane] Katrina, but also from the health crisis that they face, the crime that they face — it’s really a place where there’s a lot of amazing stuff going on, a lot of amazing solutions to a lot of very challenging problems.”

One of the conference speakers was Jeff Hebert, executive director of the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority — who stepped into the role of New Orleans’ CRO while the meeting was taking place. “That announcement,” Young said, “was one piece of news that came out of our conference.”

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.