Learning from crisis: Why cities must foster resilient recovery

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Lauren Sorkin — Acting Executive Director, Global Resilient Cities Network

The historic challenge for leaders is to manage the crisis while building the future.

Henry Kissinger

COVID-19 is the challenge of our generation — and how we respond and recover will either lay the foundation for a more equitable, cohesive, and climate-responsive future or it will reinforce old systems that leave poorer, more vulnerable people behind and in harm’s way.

Either way, cities will be on the front line.

Cities have registered 95% of COVID-19 cases, and the economic crisis brought about by response measures — like social distancing and lockdowns, intensify vulnerabilities that existed in urban communities, including access to food, livelihoods, and affordable healthcare.

That’s why resilience leadership in cities is critical.

Across the world, Mayors, City Commissioners, and their Teams are busily responding to the COVID-19 impacts on their citizens and they are also dedicating themselves to thinking about the day after. In fact, within the Global Resilient Cities Network, 88% of member cities are already working to embed resilience into their recovery efforts (https://bit.ly/3bp5CMQ). However, city leaders can neither manage this pandemic nor foster a resilient recovery on their own.

Cities must hold fast to good governing principles and set their visions for resilient response and recovery. Then, they must quickly mobilize the whole community responses. Cities need engineers and architects to design and build better systems and they rely on the ingenuity and agility of businesses and civil society — and in particular small and medium enterprise and local community groups- to deliver locally, providing good jobs and the compassionate care that is so vital in these challenging times.

Chief Resilience Officers are knowledgeable leaders of resilient response and recovery efforts who have been protecting vulnerable communities since day one of this crisis. Take the efforts of CRO Krishna Mohan, who has delivered thousands of meals with a coalition of Kollywood celebrities, business leaders, and civil society champions to informal settlements in Chennai during India’s lockdown. Or on the other side of the world where Oakland CRO Alexandria McBride leads her city’s first community resilience effort inside the Emergency Operations Center, targeting philanthropic payments to save minority-owned small businesses who needed it most.

Through years of experience working with our global Network, CROs are leveraging their skills and the wisdom of their colleagues globally to turn existing challenges and this crisis into opportunities to thrive. Vital in this moment, Chief Resilience Officers are working as coalition builders who engage across businesses, governments, civil society, and academic communities.

In the words of Yuval Noah Harari, ‘To defeat the virus we need to share information globally. That is the big advantage of humans over viruses. A coronavirus in China and a coronavirus in the US cannot swap tips about how to infect humans. But China can teach the US many valuable lessons about coronavirus and how to deal with it.‘

Our Cities’ Leaders, CROs, and partners of the Global Resilient Cities Network have built up trust over six years of working together. And in the months since we first started facilitating conversations about coronavirus response (https://bit.ly/3dUXrdA) they have continued to articulate demands for sharing experiences broadly. So we have committed ourselves to move quickly and share our knowledge on how to build a resilient future in cities with our Cities on the Front Line campaign (https://www.resilienceshift.org/resilient-leadership/). Building on these efforts we are proud to be partnering with The Resilience Shift to make our cities’ knowledge and experience more accessible to all. We believe that our CRO’s experience across regions and the diversity of challenges and opportunities they face provide relatable — and more importantly useful — lessons for all.

This is resilience leadership in action.

We will not have another opportunity like this again. With continued dialogue and a commitment to articulate and overcome differences, we can deliver a resilient future. The next generation is counting on us so let’s keep sharing and working together.

Learning from crisis: Why cities must foster resilient recovery