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Developing a new Partnership for Resilient Communities

I’m always excited to announce a new initiative, but this one feels extra special. The launch of ISC’s Partnership for Resilient Communities could not be more timely; its mission is to promote and build capacity for inclusive, community-driven approaches to urban resilience-building – approaches in which the goals of advancing social equity and bolstering social cohesion are front-and-center.

Check out the recently released Request for Proposals to see if your community is among the 21 cities where local Community Based Organizations (CBOs) are eligible to apply for assistance in this first phase of the project. If not, stay tuned and visit the web page frequently, as we hope to expand the program into more communities in the coming months and years, and we will be sharing out useful information – new tools, frameworks and stories – all along the way.

“Urban resilience” is all the rage these days, as a rapidly growing number of cities and regions around the world – many prompted by the increasingly devastating local impacts of global climate disruption – are grappling with how to get, and stay, prepared and strong. These cities are reaching the somber realization that they face an increasingly wide and worrying range of risks – from extreme weather and health scares to economic upheaval and terrorism – and need to do a much better job of assessing, anticipating and managing these risks, and positioning their communities not only to survive and bounce back, but to “bounce forward” – to come out the other end even stronger.

It’s unfortunate that we find ourselves in this situation, but fortunate that so many cities across the country (and the globe) are rising to meet the challenge.

ISC was one of the first to see the unpleasant writing on the wall. We’ve been working to build capacity for effective urban adaptation and resilience for several years now, through programs such as our Sustainable Communities Leadership Academy, our assistance to the groundbreaking Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact and other cities and regions across the country, and our incubation of the American Society of Adaptation Professionals.

ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability also has been working in this arena for many years. They just concluded their 7th Annual Global Forum on Urban Resilience and Adaptation in Bonn. My colleague Stephanie Rust (ISC’s Vice President for International Programs) was there, moderating a panel on the role of manufacturing firms in building urban resilience in South and Southeast Asia.

The Rockefeller Foundation-initiated 100 Resilient Cities (a newer but very important intervention) just announced their third and final tranche of participating cities. The Compact of Mayors and the Covenant of Mayors recently merged into the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, now the largest global coalition of cities committed to climate leadership; urban adaptation and resilience is one of that group’s top priorities. In addition, the urban adaptation challenge has emerged as a top priority for the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, the premiere alliance of municipal sustainability champions here in the U.S. (ISC and the USDN partner frequently; we recently co-produced a guide on developing urban adaptation indicators.)

Suffice it to say, there is a flurry of activity – replete with experimentation, innovation, progress and pitfalls – underway as cities strive to make themselves stronger in the face of climate change and other disruptions. To date though, much of this activity has been top-down (driven mostly by local governments) and focused primarily (if not exclusively) on physical infrastructure: elevating homes and highways; making culverts wider and seawalls higher; getting people and wastewater treatment plants out of harm’s way, etc. While low-income people, people-of-color and other vulnerable communities are likely to be disproportionally impacted by climate disruption, they are rarely given adequate opportunity to shape and lead resilience-building activities. And so we are running the risk of developing resilience strategies and programs that don’t resonate with, respond to, benefit from and serve well the very people and communities they purport to help.

This is where our new Partnership for Resilient Communities comes in. We will select community-based organizations (CBOs) around the country and partner intensively with them for about three years, providing peer-learning services and a mix of financial, strategic and technical assistance tailored to their needs and wants. Along the way, we will seek to influence and advance the still-embryonic but fast-growing urban resilience movement, for example by synthesizing and sharing out the promising practices and lessons learned we generate along the way, as well as new frameworks, tools and stories that can help other cities and regions accelerate along their own resilience trajectory.
To begin with, we will choose 2-3 partners working in one of the 20 shortlisted communities, culled from the Sustainable Communities Learning Network with which we’ve been working for several years. If you live or work in one of the places, or know somebody who does, please help spread the word! If you do not, please bookmark the website and visit frequently for updates and useful information.