There was a certain irony to the abrupt end of the 100 Resilient Cities (100RCs) initiative last year. Bankrolled by the Rockefeller Foundation since 2013, much was achieved over six years but there were issues around its own resilience, given the large number of staff and single main source of funding.
For the cities themselves, there was the challenge of maintaining the newly created Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) role – a central requirement of 100RCs membership – and putting into practice the fine aspirations in their glossy resilience strategies after the funding and resource support ran out.
Out of this has now emerged a new entity, again largely enabled by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Global Resilient Cities Network (GRCN) – although it might be rebranded in time. The emphasis is on a lighter, decentralised entity with a governance model that is centred around the city CROs themselves, through a global steering committee.
GRCN is comprised of the 100RCs members and a team made up mostly of its former executives, based in London, Mexico City, New York and Singapore. It has been coming together since September of last year (the plug was pulled on 100RCs at the end of July) and its official launch was last week at the World Urban Forum (WUF) in Abu Dhabi.
“We took a lot of time to design this with the community, it is a natural evolution of the work,” says Lina Liakou, GRCN MD for Europe and the Middle East (and ex-100RCs, where she held a similar role). She emphasises that it is ia city-led programme, so not the top-down model of 100RCs, with the steering group made up of two CROs from each region. During the preparation for the new network the CROs communicated on a regular basis, there were regional committees and working groups, and they took the time to look at other networks, to see what works and what does not. GRCN complements other global initiatives and networks, she adds, so too the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Liakou feels the decentralised approach is now appropriate as almost 80 of the 100RCs members have published their resilience strategies so are mostly implementing projects (Houston and London were the latest to publish their strategies, last week, with a few others scheduled to do so shortly).
GRCN needs to be impact-based, says Liakou, reflecting the fact that most cities are now in implementation mode. This means providing expertise, resources and working in partnerships around common issues, such as climate resilience, water systems, circular economies and infrastructure.
Operationally, GRCN is expected to have around 25 staff across the four locations, plus another that will be added for Africa. While there is funding for the next few years, one of the main priorities is to ensure longevity, so it will seek partnerships and other funders.
It is ready to accept up to ten additional cities as members this year. “Even in the midst of our crisis” 100RCs was receiving new approaches, says Liakou. For new joiners there will be a similar model to 100RCs, with a need for a CRO, the creation of a resilience roadmap and commitment within each city’s priorities. With a lot of lessons from the work to date, she believes the process can be accelerated. She expects announcements about new joiners in the third quarter; if there are more than ten would-be additions, then it will be a case of going back to the community to discuss this.
There are 83 active CROs, says Liakou, with institutionalised and self-funded programmes. She feels this was the biggest success of 100RCs and most cities have found that the CRO position is a useful one. She also points out that 100RCs was never intended to fully support the implementation of their strategies and this too remains beyond the ability of GRCN. There were a few cases where the 100RCs process was not easy and it could, for one thing, be disrupted by political changes, including at the mayoral level. In the UK, for instance, all of the CROs remain in place, with the exception of Bristol.
Since July of last year, the need for city resilience has only become more pressing, as illustrated by the wild fires in Australia and California, flooding around the globe and even, says Liakou, the current Coronavirus crisis.
Speaking at the launch last week, Lauren Sorkin, acting GRCN executive director (and former 100RCs MD) highlighted a $35 billion investment gap in resilience in cities. “We know there is more work to be done; as global threats rise, there has never been a more important time to invest in the technologies, capacities and projects that deliver urban resilience.” There is clearly plenty of work for GRCN and its members to do, as a new chapter starts, following where 100RCs led.
Further reading: Smarter Communities has spoken to a number of CROs in the last few years: