Guest Blog: Atlanta Aims for Urban Resilience

Posted by on May 22, 2017

A street fair in Atlanta. Photo: William Anderson

by Ramana Koti

 

According to the United Nations, in 2016, an estimated 54.5% of the world’s population lived in urban settlements. This is projected to increase to 60% by the year 2030. This rapid urbanization when combined with a host of other factors, such as changing economic, infrastructure, and climate conditions, has the potential to create unforeseen short-term and long-term disruptions to a city dweller’s way of life. It would be fair to say that there is a considerable gap in the readiness of most of our cities to tackle even small scale disruptions.

100 Resilient Cities

The 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) program is a 2013 initiative of the Rockefeller Foundation aimed precisely at addressing this readiness gap. By May 2016, it had chosen 100 worldwide cities (from the 1,000 applications) to receive support in planning for urban resilience.

As defined by the 100 Resilient Cities program, “Urban Resilience is 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.”

Chronic Stresses

Weaken the fabric of a city on a daily or cyclical basis.

Examples

  • High unemployment
  • Overtaxed or inefficient public transportation system
  • Endemic violence
  • Chronic food and water shortages.

Acute Shocks

Are sudden, sharp events that threaten a city.

Examples

  • Earthquakes
  • Floods
  • Disease outbreaks
  • Terrorist attacks

For its 100 members, 100 RC provides financial and logistical guidance for a ‘Chief Resilience Officer’ city government position, expert support for the development of a resilience strategy, and access to peers and service providers.

Atlanta

Atlanta is one of the 31 North American cities to participate in 100RC; its engagement with 100RC kicked off in September 2016. In November 2016, Mayor Kasim Reed appointed the then Director of Sustainability, Stephanie Stuckey, to the new role of a Chief Resilience Officer. Stuckey has an accomplished background in public interest law and environmental leadership.

Stuckey has been busy spreading the word, gathering community feedback and building a coalition ever since. Lord Aeck Sargent, my employer, inviter her over for a presentation on 100RC in January 2017. The idea for this interview and blog post originated during my conversation with her at the January presentation.

RK: What are Atlanta’s chronic stresses and acute shocks?

SS: We identified a few likely shocks and chronic stresses that our City and our residents face. Regarding acute shocks for example, Atlanta is prone to extreme weather and climate change related events like: drought, flooding, heat, icestorms, etc. We are also prone to shocks that exacerbate stresses like the I-85 bridge collapse taxing a road system on which we’re highly dependent. Beyond a stressed road system and the quality of our transportation network, we collected survey responses from Atlantans that named poverty and inequity, as well as inadequate access to education, as additional stresses to address.

RK: From the recent survey and conversations, can you summarize the community feedback for us?

SS: From January through the end of March of this year we actively reached out to Atlantans for an informed and comprehensive assessment of our current levels of resilience. We met with over 1600 community stakeholders throughout government, academia, non-profits, business and faith-based groups to gauge their perceptions and to inventory actions already being taken to improve our resilience. Through these perceptions we identified perceived strengths for Atlanta regarding: local identity and culture, medical resources available, and the quality and quantity of our institutions of higher learning, to name a few. Perceived weaknesses included: housing (whether in regards to substandard housing or inadequate access to affordable housing), inadequate support in K-12 education, and as mentioned, inadequate access to convenient and affordable alternative modes of transportation and connectivity.

RK: What had Atlanta done to address urban resilience until last year and what does the 100RC program mean for Atlanta?

SS: Previously, I’d served as the City’s Director of Sustainability, and while we were addressing some issues regarding urban resilience, our membership in 100 Resilient Cities and partnering with Rockefeller helps us gain access to partners in every sector as well as a network of similarly focused cities and an exchange of best practices. Plus creating our Chief Resilience Officer position helps funnel collaboration and encourage communication between diverse stakeholders at all levels to ensure a holistic and all-inclusive strategy for greater resilience.

RK: Are there lessons in the recent I-85 bridge collapse?

SS: Like we mentioned, the I-85 bridge collapse was a major shock to an already stressed transportation system. While we’re still early in formulating our resilience strategy, we were able to respond and support the work that GDOT [the Georgia Department of Transportation] and the federal government has committed to, since the interstate is under their purview, not the City’s. One example of how the City responded was by working with our platform partners through 100 Resilient Cities to create CommuteATL.com, a traffic navigation page for Atlanta that our City’s Information Management team worked with 100 Resilient Cities’ platform partner ESRI. While GDOT is taking the lead on their state road, we at the City will continue to do what we can to collaborate.

RK: What is your model city for urban resilience and why?

SS: We’ve got a lot of great cities doing amazing work to become more resilient in our 100 Resilient Cities network. New York is doing great work implementing projects. Boston has done some amazing civic engagement. Rotterdam hosted some great dialogues and exchanged best practices with another member city, Norfolk, since both cities are susceptible to climate-change-induced flooding. Atlanta is in some great company, and we hope to learn from all our fellow 100 Resilient Cities.

RK: What is one thing average Atlanta citizens can do today by themselves, that would be considered a high impact item?

SS: Regarding our stressed roadways, carpool or take MARTA! That’s been helping everyone in Atlanta in the face of the I-85 collapse, and it’s our hope and intent keep people commuting responsibly.

RK: Where are we and what’s next?

SS: Now that we’ve got our Preliminary Resilience Assessment or Phase I done, we’ve got Phase II, our Strategy Development to focus on with the hope that our strategy will be approved and can start being implemented by the end of the year. Follow us at @ATLResilience on social media and visit us at ResilientAtlanta.org in order to stay tuned! Remember, resilience starts with us.

 

About Ramana Koti

Ramana is a Building Performance Analyst at the Atlanta office of the architecture and planning firm Lord Aeck Sargent. He frequently blogs on topics related to architecture and sustainability. Ramana also volunteers with the local branches of AIA COTE and USGBC.

About Stephanie Stuckey

Stephanie Stuckey is the Chief Resilience Officer at City of Atlanta through 100 Resilient Cities, pioneer by the Rockefeller Foundation. She received both her undergraduate and law degree from the University of Georgia.  She graduated cum laude from the University of Georgia School of Law in 1992.  After law school, she served as a public defender and then went into private practice before being elected to the Georgia General Assembly in 1999.  Stephanie served as a State Representative from the Decatur area for 14 years, during which time she was a member of the Judiciary and Natural Resources Committees.  She then went on to serve as Executive Director of GreenLaw, an Atlanta-based public interest law firm dedicated to giving Georgia’s environment its day in court.  In May 2015, she was appointed by Mayor Kasim Reed to be Director of Sustainability for the City of Atlanta. In November 2016, Stephanie was named the Chief Resilience Officer for Atlanta, working in conjunction with the Rockefeller Foundation’s “100 Resilient Cities.” Stephanie’s legal expertise was recognized in 2011 when she was given the Outstanding Lawyer in Public Service Award by the Atlanta Bar Association.  Stephanie serves on the Boards for the Green Chamber of the South, EarthShare of Georgia, and the Olmsted Linear Parks Association.  She is a member of the Institute for Georgia Environmental Leadership Class of 2013.

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