Miami-Dade County, and Miami Beach, recently established Chief Resilience Officers (CRO). This puts Miami-Dade in a unique position as one of the few, if only, counties on the planet to incorporate this position into municipal government.
While a groundbreaking step, this decision comes with many pressures. The impetus behind establishing a CRO was to address the impact of climate change — an important acknowledgment of the dangers Miami-Dade and the state of Florida face as storms become more frequent and intense, and sea levels rise. The affects of climate change are not just felt through storms, but through higher food prices, unreliable energy sources, immigration issues and a host of other concerns. These are real risks, and they cannot be ignored.
However, addressing the risks alone should not occupy the agenda of Miami-Dade’s resilience-building efforts and the county’s new CRO. Resilience cannot be built by focusing on one aspect of a city’s risks, but rather by establishing a holistic viewpoint on how issues interconnect.
Resilience speaks to the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses and systems within a city to survive, adapt and grow, no matter the chronic stresses — like decaying infrastructure and lack of economic opportunity — or acute shocks, such as a hurricane or flood. A CRO needs to build connections across not just various departments of municipal government, but across an entire ecosystem of people and places.
By connecting the dots, and recognizing that a problem like climate change is not independent of other challenges, such as crime, poverty and transportation, a CRO can move the needle on all fronts and for a fraction of what it would cost to address them independently.
At 100 Resilient Cities — pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation — we work with municipal governments in urban hubs on six continents and in more than 30 countries. As the organization that established the CRO as a governmental position, we’ve seen the perils that accompany the combination of traditional planning and governing with resilience building, and the tremendous opportunity that accompanies a broader view of resilience.
Municipal government departments and roles are often narrow, with defined jurisdiction and concrete boundaries around what should, and more often, what should not occupy their work. CROs have an opportunity to break that mold and establish a position that exists outside of a traditional silo. This is a model starting to show real success in cities and regions around the globe.
In New Orleans, 10 years after flooding from Hurricane Katrina changed the face of the city, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and CRO Jeff Hebert have established a new agenda, “Resilient New Orleans,” which will orient the decision-making and planning of the entire city across departments for years to come. While framed by Katrina, New Orleans’ resilience work addresses the underlying social concerns and stresses that Katrina exposed, not just how to prevent future flooding through water-management systems.
In Norfolk, Virginia, CRO Christine Morris and City Manager Marcus Jones have overhauled the city’s approach to data management and decision-making, further equipping one of the most flood-prone regions in the world to live with sea-level rise. The resilience-building work in Norfolk has been heralded by ratings giant Moody’s as critical to maintaining the region’s credit rating. The city is thinking holistically about how housing, transportation and education threats need to be addressed alongside new realities dictated by rising seas.
Miami-Dade has a tremendous opportunity to adopt the approach of these municipalities and the work 100RC is pioneering. Climate change alone should not dictate the agenda of any CRO. Instead, by broadening the mandate of this new position, the county can reap real benefits and expand the impacts it can have on other regions wrestling with these issues.
Michael Berkowitz is president of 100 Resilient Cities, an organization pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation.