(In June, Emerald Cities Collaborative convened a half-day forum, “The High Road to Climate Resilience in American Cities. This President’s Perspective is drawn from the opening remarks delivered by ECC President and CEO Denise Fairchild.)
Why is a discussion of resilience an important conversation for Emerald Cities Collaborative?
Climate resilience means different things to different people. To me, it’s a tool for having a conversation, with new stakeholders, about building a high road economy – a strong economy that values our environment and equity.
Environment Front and Center
To build a climate-resilient city means making fundamental changes to how America works. Climate resilience, first and foremost, places the environment at the center of our decision making.
- Climate resilience means that we take an eco-system approach to planning and development.
- It means that the environment is not an incidental factor.
- It means a new, more respectful and intentional relationship with Mother Earth.
Beyond reordering our relationship with the natural environment, we have to restructure our built environment. Climate resilience means that we need to change every aspect of our physical infrastructure, not just to make it sturdier, but – more importantly – to make it more eco-friendly in fulfilling its everyday function and more agile, adaptable and capable of operating under duress and conditions of uncertainty.
Our water, power and food distribution systems must be redesigned and rebuilt. This goes beyond building sea walls or fortifying our energy and water infrastructure. It means total redesigns: renewable vs. non-renewables, local food distribution systems, on-site water management. It means a vision of a hybrid life “off the grid” as we know it.
A New Economic Model
Climate resilience also demands a new economic imperative. We need to change how our economy works. We need new models of economic growth that reassert the importance of local ownership and control, as opposed to an economy dependent on imports and long supply chains – an economy that is self-reliant and able to sustain itself in the face of drought, floods and other hazardous conditions.
We need to build an economy that provides families the financial means to live above or get to high ground as needed, with livable wages, benefits and careers.
We need an economy where local businesses are effectively prepared to feed and shelter their neighbors.
A resilient economy is grounded in a radically different value proposition; it promotes quality of life over its material bounty.
New, Better Civic Infrastructure
Most importantly, climate resilience requires a new, sturdier, higher functioning civic infrastructure. It is a civic culture:
- That encourages mutual aid and support, not individualism, as the renewed American ethic;
- Where equity and social justice are core principles that drive planning and investment strategies;
- Where our community institutions function as critical actors, providing safe havens for the multi-faceted needs of a community in crises; and
- In which the most vulnerable populations are not only cared for but are full participants in the making of resilient economies and communities.
A New Sense of Urgency
I have evolved in my thoughts about resilience and now recognize that a conversation about climate resilience is a conversation about ECC’s vision, aspirations and commitment to environment, economy and equity. But while a lot of what climate resilience suggests is not new to Emerald Cities, what is particularly new and important is the sense of urgency that it connotes – an urgency not previously recognized.
While we are making progress in our respective spheres to advance solutions to prevent greenhouse gas emissions, to conserve water, to minimize waste, unfortunately it is not enough.
The climate clock is ticking. We have no time to waste. We need to think beyond mitigation, to embrace the full range of adaptation efforts. And to unpack the economic and equity dimensions of these efforts.
So we look forward to a conversation that will unpack a climate resilience strategy with high road bells and whistles.
Ideas Leading to Action
We want and need a broad range of perspectives to begin to figure this out – community, business, environment, government and labor partners – not just as a planning exercise, but to bring forth ideas that lead to specific actions, initiatives and outcomes.
I am a planner, but I believe in action, which leads to the second reason for this critically important conversation. Emerald Cities and its allies and supporters are going to take action.
The White House wants public comments on its climate resilience initiative, and we are going to submit our ideas and recommendations for building high road ramps to a resilient America to the Council on Environmental Quality’s State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. That task force is advising the Obama Administration on the federal government’s response to the needs of communities dealing with the impacts of climate change.
I invite all of you to submit your own thoughts to the CEQ task force and join ECC in building a more resilient, equitable and secure America.