Changing the world, 100 cities at a time

The 100 Resilient Cities program was initiated in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and the current climate illustrates the need for cities to change. In an exclusive interview at The Rockefeller Foundation, 100RC President Michael Berkowitz discusses the importance of resilient infrastructure.

Why focus on resilient cities?


Michael Berkowitz: The Rockefeller Foundation [RF] identified three major trends before we began 100 Resilient Cities – Pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation [100RC]. The first is urbanization; more than 50 percent of the world’s population lives in cities now. That number is expected to be 70 percent by the middle of the century. A million people a year move to cities.

The second is globalization – more and more, what happens in one city affects the others, whether it’s technology or the spread of ideas like Occupy Wall Street. Cities are more and more connected. When floods disrupt chip manufacturing in Bangkok, that affects automotive supply lines all over the world.


The third is climate change. Rising sea levels threaten many of the world’s cities on coastlines and in river deltas. Even cities where flood risk is low may experience higher or more extreme temperatures, which local buildings and energy infrastructure may not be designed to cope with.


How has the 100RC program developed?


In 2013, the Foundation announced the creation of 100RC to celebrate its centennial – a US$164 million commitment to build resilience in 100 cities. We chose this network of 100 cities over the last four years. We had 1,000 applications. It was incredibly competitive, and we screened for cities that were already curious and innovative.


The Foundation invited participation from academia, governments, non-profits, and private corporations. Platform Partners, like Siemens, are critical to the mission. By connecting cities to a wide range of Platform Partners, we are helping to catalyze innovation for resilience-building solutions in flood control, energy distribution, transportation, and finance.



The 100 cities are places where you can have real success. You can see them almost as a distribution network for good innovation models. If it works in one place, we have 99 other cities, some of which need that, too.


We are starting to change how governments view their risks and opportunities. We provided two years of grant funding for cities to hire Chief Resilience Officers (CROs), and nearly all of the cities that completed those two years of funding have rehired the CROs with their own money. They have clearly seen value in it.

What is the definition of resilience in terms of a city’s infrastructure?

There is resilient infrastructure, and there is infrastructure that builds resilience, and those two are not necessarily the same. Resilient infrastructure is infrastructure that doesn’t fall down – that is able to survive and perform. Infrastructure that builds resilience means building in inclusive, integrated, risk-aware, and forward-looking ways. That is true across all geographies, all capacities, and all hazard types. Making a community or a neighborhood more integrated, more cohesive, more livable, more just, more sustainable. All of those things allow a city or community to thrive and grow.

It’s the work of a generation, but if we do it, we can change the world.
Michael Berkowitz, President of 100 Resilient Cities

One example: After Hurricane Sandy, we worked with New York City on protection from rising tides and storm surges. The traditional engineering approach would be to estimate the sea level rise and the frequency of storms, and then design and build a wall accordingly. The Big U is a series of integrated re-infrastructure that’s being built now that goes from East 23rd Street to West 23rd Street and will protect lower Manhattan from storm surge and sea-level rise.


The first stage is a berm in East River Park that provides height and protection, but also enhances biodiversity. It expands green space to reduce the urban heat island effect. Since the berm goes up to the edge of the FDR Drive, we will be able to lay big level pedestrian crossings across the freeway. Local communities were involved in the final design, rejecting some ideas and accepting others. In terms of inclusivity, that improves resilience, because now the community has better trust in the city.


Another example: Paris, France is an incredibly affluent and dense city that faces environmental issues like river flooding, urban heat island effect, and air pollution, as well as the threat of terrorist attacks. For them, the challenge is to meet the commitments of COP21 [the 2015 Paris climate conference] and address environmental challenges while simultaneously integrating their large suburban immigrant populations with the affluent center.


The elements of integration and cohesion are present in every infrastructure project. Thus, in order to meet environmental commitments, the city of Paris is building new infrastructure, including bike lanes and bus rapid transit. If the whole spectrum of building this infrastructure – design, location, construction, maintenance, financing, etc. – is approached in an integrated manner, then you make Paris stronger, more livable, more sustainable, regardless of what happens.

What role does technology play in a resilient city?


In the developing world, the main issue is energy. It’s energy reliability and sustainability, and it’s provision and distribution. In cities all over the world, the severe lack of energy could be solved creatively through distributed energy solutions and microgrids. Microgrids are better able to take sustainable loads, and they are less likely to have cascading failure, so they have more robustness. That’s what we call the resilience dividend. You get cleaner energy and you get more reliable energy.


The better cities understand themselves, the more resilient they are. Smart technology is a really important tool for people interested in designing and operating a more equitable, more sustainable, more resilient city. Data can be aggregated and then shared more broadly across a different subset of app developers, or entrepreneurs, or technologists who develop innovative solutions.


We are about to turn the corner and make cities more livable, sustainable, and resilient. It’s the work of a generation, but if we do it, we can change the world.


Leane Clifton is a freelance journalist located in New York.

Picture credits: Photos: Nuria Rius

A study by consulting firm Arup on behalf of The Rockefeller Foundation found that resilient systems had the following qualities:

  • Reflectiveness, or the ability to learn from the past
  • Resourcefulness, or the ability to act on that
  • Robustness, which refers to not having catastrophic and cascading failure
  • Inclusiveness, or the ability to prioritize broad consultation to create a sense of shared ownership in decisionmaking
  • Integration, bringing together a range of distinct systems and institutions
  • Redundancy, or spare capacity to accommodate disruption due to extreme pressures, surges in demand, or an external event, including multiple ways to achieve a given need
  • Flexibility, or the willingness and ability to adopt alternative strategies in response to changing circumstances or crises

Berkowitz began his career at the New York City Office of Emergency Management. He served as Deputy Manager of that department from 1997 to 2005. During that time, his department handled the Y2K problem, the attack on the World Trade Center, and the big 2003 Northeast Blackout. Berkowitz then joined Deutsche Bank and became the Head of Operational Risk Management, dealing with non-financial risks such as damages to property, employee illness, technology failures, and internal fraud. In 2013, The Rockefeller Foundation recruited Berkowitz to run 100 Resilient Cities.

The Rockefeller Foundation chose the first 100 member cities in three groups. Across six continents and 48 countries, 100RC has funded CROs to design resilience strategies. So far, 35 cities have completed their strategies and have begun implementation.


The cities range in population size from 40,000 to 21 million. There are currently 138 collaborations between cities and Platform Partners, who have pledged US$230 million in support. Another US$535 million in funding is being provided by national, philanthropic, and private sources to implement the planned resilience projects.

The 100RC Platform Partnership was designed to bring private and institutional resilience-building knowledge to member cities. Siemens joined the Platform in the spring of 2016, contributing its vast experience with urban infrastructure (buildings, energy, and transport) to the partnership. Siemens’ relationship with 100RC is based at the Center of Competence Cities, but every 100RC city engagement is conducted with Siemens’ local teams. It is the mix of global knowledge and local expertise that adds a unique element to the partnership, and it has real-life impact, as these are the cities where the Siemens teams live and work.

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