Five years ago, the position of “chief resilience officer” was unheard of anywhere in the world. Today, there are 86 of these CROs worldwide, each playing the essential role of spearheading a comprehensive resilience strategy.

It all started in 2013 when the Rockefeller Foundation identified three major global trends with the potential to disrupt our current way of life: urbanisation, globalisation and climate change.

With burgeoning cities comes increased exposure to climate-related threats. It was then that the US-based foundation created 100 Resilient Cities to help cities face these challenges.

“What started then as a bold but untested idea on how to best help cities prepare for the challenges of the 21st century has transformed into a truly global movement, one driven by city leaders, urban stakeholders, and corporate and nonprofit partners,” said Michael Berkowitz, president of 100 Resilient Cities and managing director of the Rockefeller Foundation, in a press release.

“In more than 80 cities around the world, chief resilience officers are breaking down siloes in city governments and unifying stakeholders around their risks and opportunities,” he added.

100 Resilient Cities

Michael Berkowitz, president of 100 Resilient Cities and managing director of the Rockefeller Foundation. Photo: Andy Lane

“From New York to Santiago de los Caballeros, 40 cities around the world have released Resilience Strategies, catalysing over US$1.7bil (RM6.7bil) in funding to support their implementation. And today, cities have designed and are implementing over 2,000 actions and initiatives to make cities more resilient.”

Two quick examples: Paris is re-imagining its schoolyards as urban oases and opening green spaces to the public to break down community barriers and mitigate the urban heat island effect.

The Parque del Norte project in Santa Fe, Argentina, will expand the city’s public space while generating both environmental benefits and large-scale investment for housing development. The project involves recovering and revitalising 80ha of land formerly used as a landfill site, the municipal botanical garden and several derelict green spaces.

In Malaysia, Mohd Ridhwan Mohd Ali was appointed Melaka’s chief resilience officer in September 2017. The heritage city enjoys bustling economic growth supported by both foreign investment and tourism.

However, under-investment in infrastructure development is causing significant traffic congestion and reduced air quality. In the long run, these stresses may adversely affect tourism and the people’s health as well as increase the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Melaka also faces increased risks of flooding due to inadequate drainage facilities and rising high tides.

Flooding brings with it a host of problems, such as blocking access to critical infrastructure, damage to heritage buildings, problems with waste management and traffic congestion, not to mention post-flood disease outbreaks and clean-up efforts.

To address these challenges, initiatives such as the Green Cities Action Plan, supported by the Asian Development Bank, has been put in place to push for sustainable development.

100 Resilient Cities

Singapore’s Ang Mo Kio Park features a canal, previously buried, that has been revitalised to create a flood plain and recreational area. Photo: Wikimedia images

According to Berkowitz, 70% of the world’s population is expected to reside in urban areas by 2050, “which means it will be in cities where we have the chance to address the most pressing issues of our time, chief among them equity, climate, and poverty alleviation”.

“Yet so much of the urban landscape has yet to be built, especially in rapidly growing cities of the global South. More than ever, we have a unique opportunity to apply a resilience lens to urban development,” he added.

The World Bank estimates that US$2 trillion (RM7.9 trillion) will be spent annually over the next 15 years on urban infrastructure.

“The way to build stronger, more adaptable cities is to leverage those resources to produce multiple benefits, where a single intervention done right can address various challenges.

“New housing units and green space can be incubated to build community strength and social capital; upgraded public transportation and multimodal streets can better foster cohesive and integrated neighbourhoods.

“This approach to infrastructure will make cities more sustainable, more livable and ultimately more resilient, giving them greater ability to withstand whatever shock may come next,” he said.