Say Hello to Obama’s Chief Resilience Officer

This piece from shares an interview with Harriet Tregoning. Here are some excerpts, with a link to the full article below:


Question: Throughout your career, you have worked under the banner of smart growth and sustainable development. How is resilience different from those two concepts?

Answer: Resilience is really focused on shocks and stresses. While not geared toward any single shock or stress, resilience is part of a recognition that the future is going to be considerably different than the past.

Resilience favors diversity. It favors more choices. It favors innovation. It favors social connectedness and cohesion. It must focus on the most vulnerable geography and the most vulnerable people, because how people fare in the event of a shock of some kind is extremely different based on whether they have the resources to bounce back.

Resilience can be thought of as a place-based attribute, but places don’t have these qualities unless they are very deliberate about it. It’s almost never the automatic byproduct of a laissez-faire market-based system.

Communities have to decide what kind of future they want to have, and then they have to make very difficult and deliberate changes to get these sustainable smarter-growth outcomes. That’s absolutely true for resilience as well. The better and more inclusive the process, the better the outcome.

Question: When you think about what makes people and communities resilient, it seems the answer is both broad and deep. There’s a broad array of factors that matter: social, environmental, the built environment. There are deep-rooted issues, as you said earlier, that have to do with people’s differential vulnerability to disaster. How do you address this issue in a way that’s appropriately broad and deep and still get stuff done?

Answer: To get specific, we’re running a $1 billion National Disaster Resilience Competition. We are partnering with the Rockefeller Foundation, which is putting $5 million worth of technical assistance into the first six months of the competition. They’ve been doing a series of “resilience academies” around the country to help the applicants think broadly and deeply about resilience.

In the academies, a lot of focus has turned toward underlying conditions: poverty, segregation by race and income, unemployment, and lack of access to the basic needs of life — such as jobs, health care, and educational opportunities. Addressing those fundamental conditions is an important part of making a community more resilient. The resilience frame has been demonstrably useful in raising these issues that have sometimes been very hard to address.

The notion that is also very much a part of this competition is that resilience isn’t just about preparing for some future unexpected event. It’s about investing in your community in a way that brings you benefits every single day.

Why would we ever again build a berm or a levy if a waterfront park would give us the same protection from flooding? That waterfront park is a community amenity. It might help to revitalize a distressed neighborhood. It provides those benefits every single day.

Question: When I look at what needs to be done to make communities more resilient, it seems that there are some fairly major changes that need to be made. Where will the push to make those kinds of changes come from?

Answer: Some of it comes from the shock of the events themselves. It’s the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina this year. We’ve had some very big and costly disasters in the last 10 years. There were more than 200 presidentially declared disasters just between 2011 and 2013. Hurricane Sandy, in particular, was the second most costly disaster we’ve ever had. It affected the East Coast in a way that was, frankly, shocking to the communities and the states that were so impacted.

I think every event is an opportunity for people to say, “Wait a minute. We weren’t prepared, and this could happen again. How can we get more prepared?” I think people are getting more sophisticated. Whatever the next event will be, it won’t be exactly like the one we just had. How do we more broadly prepare for this more uncertain future, this more extreme weather, these rising sea levels?

Question: Any final thoughts?

Answer: I do think that climate change is one of the most enormous challenges of our time. I don’t always talk about climate change when I talk about resilience, but those two things are very closely linked, at least in my mind.


For more information, see the original article here: