The 11 Most Resilient Cities In America

The Rockefeller Foundation’s resiliency challenge will give 11 American cities support to improve their ability to bounce back from disaster.

As more of the world’s population moves into urban areas, and climate change increases the likelihood of flooding and extreme weather, cities all over the globe will need to strengthen their ability to withstand disasters. This year, the Rockefeller Foundation is giving a few lucky cities a push with its 100 Resilient Cities challenge, which aims to give metropolises support to design and implement disaster contingency plans.


Nearly 400 cities from around the world applied with a description of how they’re preparing to withstand catastrophic events and deal with vulnerabilities both manmade and natural. As of this week, the Rockefeller Foundation has chosen 33 cities for the first round of its challenge.

By nature, a city’s ability to weather disaster is a design issue, one with plenty of potential for design solutions: buildings that can withstand earthquakes and flooding, city infrastructure that can keep running when the main power goes out, and more. These cities, 11 in North America and 22 others worldwide, will receive support from the Rockefeller Foundation to hire a Chief Resilience Officer and develop and plan to increase the city’s ability to bounce back from disasters.

One thing is clear: If you’re looking to survive a catastrophic event, head for California.

Image via Wikipedia

Alameda, Calif.
The densely populated island just outside Oakland rests between two fault lines and faces a high risk of tsunamis. In the event of earthquakes, floods and other disasters, the city needs to develop strategies to keep the community afloat if access to the mainland is cut off.

Berkeley, Calif.
Home to one of California’s most prominent universities and a Department of Energy national lab, Berkeley is known for pioneering research. The city is currently working to be prepared to deliver critical services for up to seven days without power.

Boulder, Colo.
Devastating flooding and wildfires in Colorado’s recent history have put resilience at the forefront of Boulder’s consciousness. The city has a history of being eco-friendly, but hopes to be even more proactive about designing a community that can withstand disaster.


El Paso, Texas
El Paso’s desert surroundings make it vulnerable to the extremes of climate change. The city is partnering with Ciudad Jaurez across the border in Mexico to keep their already limited shared water supply stable.

Jacksonville, Fla.
A large swath of coastline, along with many rivers, marshes and swamps puts Jacksonville at high risk as sea levels rise.

Los Angeles, Calif.
LA’s sprawl makes sustainability even more of a challenge. A city of more than 3 million people that spans 469 square miles needs all the help it can get to design for disasters.


New Orleans, La.

Image via Shutterstock

In the wake of hurricanes, oil spills and other disasters, the city “has learned important lessons about what it takes to become a vibrant, resilient city,” according to the Rockefeller Foundation.

New York City, N.Y.
An estimated 400,000 people in New York live in buildings that are vulnerable to coastal flooding. Figuring out how to make the country’s largest city sustainable could serve as a model for urban areas around the world.


Norfolk, Va.
The largest Naval base in the world is located here at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Flooding, power outages and inadequate evacuation plans are just some of the city’s challenges.

Oakland, Calif.
Oakland’s community-driven climate change planning could be a model for other cities. A network of local groups has led the way on studying the potential impact of sea level rise and flooding.

San Francisco, Calif.
San Francisco’s strict building safety codes and use of social media to help people prepare for emergencies give it a leg up in the face of disasters.


About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut