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The Rise Of The Chief Resilience Officer

To protect against future disasters, cities are adding a new job to their governments.

The Rise Of The Chief Resilience Officer
[Illustration by Greg Kletsel]

Three-fourths of all people will live in a city by 2050 (up from 50% now), per the United Nations–an influx that keeps urban planners so busy, they struggle to prepare for the calamities that threaten their residents. Dense areas, after all, are bad places to be during a typhoon or a riot. To spur action, the Rockefeller Foundation is giving 100 cities a gift: funding to hire a “chief resilience officer” tasked with disaster prevention and response planning. The first jobs are being filled now. Here’s how they’ll help three recipients.

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To slow gang violence…

Medellín, Colombia

Violence and drug trafficking are rampant here, and the city has responded by trying to ease inequality. New CRO Santiago Uribe Rocha is particularly excited by a gondola system (built in 2004) to bring in people from surrounding mountain villages, and an expanded metro system with no more transfer fees. Rocha will build upon this, he says, increasing opportunities by “integrating our society through transportation.”

To sidestep liquefying earth…

Christchurch, New Zealand

Earthquakes in 2011 destroyed schools, hospitals, and thousands of homes; about 12,000 aftershocks have followed. The future CRO will help the city reorganize around mapped zones. “In the green zone, you can mostly build as usual,” says a city council spokeswoman. “But where the ground is prone to liquefaction, the city put up notices encouraging people to move.”

To fight fire and floods…

Boulder, Colorado

In the past five years, Boulder suffered the state’s most financially destructive wildfire and one of its worst floods–a result of its seat at the intersection of the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains. “We have a hazard mitigation plan, a drought plan, and capital-improvement initiatives,” says Boulder’s environmental planner, Brett KenCairn. But the teams that made them rarely work together. That’ll be the CRO’s job.

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What the rest of the world faces

The Rockefeller Foundation has picked 32 cities so far. It says their main threats are:

Flooding: Bangkok; Jacksonville, Florida; Mandalay, Myanmar; Mexico City; New Orleans; New York; Norfolk, Virginia; Oakland, California; Rio de Janeiro; Rotterdam, Netherlands; Semarang, Indonesia; Surat, India; Vejle, Denmark.

Extreme weather: Da Nang, Vietnam; Melbourne, Australia; Quito, Ecuador; San Francisco.

Inadequate Infrastructure: Berkeley, California; Bristol, United Kingdom; Byblos, Lebanon; Dakar, Senegal; Porto Alegre, Brazil; Ramallah, Palestine; Rome.

Economic inequality: Durban, South Africa.

Violence: Ashkelon, Israel.

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Sustainability Issues: El Paso, Texas; Los Angeles; Glasgow, Scotland.