Cities are lacking hard and soft infrastructure and planning to help them thrive and safeguard them against external stressors like natural disasters. Disasters are becoming the norm, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for cities to rebuild after crisis.
Fueled by relief work and insights around post-Katrina rebuilding efforts, The Rockefeller Foundation created their 100 Resilient Cities initiative.
From Accra, Ghana to Yiwu, China—and 98 cities in between— the initiative supported and trained 100 Chief Resilience Officers, funded the development of almost 100 resilience strategies, one specific to each city, trained resilience leaders and their teams, and developed a network of resilience practitioners that speak a common language and endeavor to solve problems together. The team worked with cities in engaging 2,500 local community groups in resilience planning, ensuring citizen voice and ownership of the resilience agenda, ultimately mobilizing a community of more than 13,000 members who contributed to the resilience building efforts in partner cities globally.
Atlanta is home to the headquarters of such companies as Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, and UPS, and has a prominent entertainment scene—especially hip-hop music, film, and television. A cradle of the American civil rights movement, with a historically enfranchised African-American population who today make up over 50% of the population, Atlanta is nevertheless geographically divided along racial lines, and has the highest income inequality of any city in the United States. These two stresses overlap, as poverty in Atlanta is suffered most strongly by the city’s minorities. Residents of color are also more likely to face local environmental justice issues. Atlanta’s abundance of trees has given it the nickname “city in a forest,” but in 2017 only 41% of its residents could safely walk to a green space, such as a park, with low-income and/or minority communities lacking access at higher rates than the city overall.
To build upon the work being done to improve water and soil quality and shore up sewer infrastructure, one of the initiatives of Atlanta’s Resilience Strategy was to construct the Proctor Creek Greenway trail. The creek snakes through the economically depressed Westside neighborhoods, where more than 90% of residents are minorities. Within the 16 square miles of the Proctor Creek Watershed, over 50,000 people face poverty-related urban challenges like food deserts, health issues due to frequent flooding of sewage-contaminated water, and a high number of vacant and blighted properties. The Greenway’s construction will contribute to the Resilience Strategy’s wider goals of creating 500 new acres of publicly-accessible green space across the city by 2022.
Complete with biking and pedestrian trails, the Proctor Creek Greenway offers multiple co-benefits from a single intervention, as it will facilitate exercise and healthy living, enhance Atlanta’s natural assets, and foster economic development in an area of the city which faces considerable environmental and economic challenges. The resilient Greenway project will leverage green infrastructure to curb flooding and runoff, while providing local residents with increased connectivity to other areas of Atlanta and an overall more cohesive community.
Mexico City, MX
Mexico City was originally built and settled in the middle of a large series of lakes within a drainless valley basin. Topography, population and increased heavy rainfall make the area extremely susceptible to frequent flooding, which disrupts transportation systems and causes sewers to overflow, significantly impacting the city.
One of the initiatives in Mexico City’s Resilience Strategy aims to develop its flood-prevention capacity using blue-green infrastructure capable of capturing rainwater and either retaining it for later use or ensuring it is absorbed slowly into the earth, rather than flooding. To further improve the resilience dividends of its flood management projects, and pursue other city goals around social cohesion and public spaces, the Strategy specifies that
such projects will also seek to build inclusive public spaces and promote education and awareness about water conservation in cities.
The city recently built a skatepark located in one of Mexico City’s oldest neighborhoods to promote recreation, and was explicitly designed to also serve as a rainwater catchment structure. The skatepark has eight rainwater storage deposits located at different points of the park, giving it the capacity to temporarily capture 146 square meters of rainwater that will then infiltrate into the soil below the skatepark. The park’s rainwater catchment system was constructed via an “aquatic cells” method, in which liquid is captured and then distributed slowly into the natural soil, allowing the rain to be a resource that feeds aquifers, rather than a challenge that floods streets.
The space is enjoyed by children and young people, and is one project within a wider recovery of public spaces that the city is undertaking to build social cohesion. To date, Mexico City has recovered 50 parks and installed 76 open-air gymnasiums as part of these efforts.