For the past three years, the National League of Cities (NLC), the Urban Land Institute (ULI), and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) have joined efforts to host the Resilient Cities Summit, providing a forum for cities to discuss how they can be better prepared for climate risk and build for a more resilient future.
Resiliency—we know what the word means, right? But resilient cities? According to the American Planning Association (APA), the American Institute of Architects (AIA), ULI, and a number of other organizations that focus on the built environment:
The definition of resilience is “the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, and more successfully adapt to adverse events.”1
What kinds of adverse events? And how does a city plan to recover?
“As weather events become more frequent and intense due to climate change, disruptions and stressors become a common concern among city officials and residents alike.”1
In her keynote address to the 2016 Resilient Cities Summit, Katherine Hammack, Former Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army for Installations, Energy, and Environment, put it this way: “a resilient city or installation provides reliable communication and mobility; ensures continuity of critical resources; and provides and enhances man-made and natural resources.”1
What does that look like in action? Let’s visit one of our NLC Service Line Warranty Program Partners, Tulsa, Oklahoma, for an idea. The City of Tulsa was selected as one of one hundred cities to be part of 100 Resilient Cities, pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation (100RC), an organization dedicated to helping cities around the world become more resilient, in 2014.2
In December 2016, Mayor G.T. Bynum appointed DeVon Douglass to become the city’s new Chief Resilience Officer. That selection follows Tulsa’s ongoing commitment to resiliency. According to the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum, the discovery of oil in 1901 set in motion events that would tie Tulsa’s future fortunes to the oil industry for many succeeding decades. Over time, however, Tulsa diversified to include telecommunications, finance, and aviation. 100 Resilient Cities notes, “The city has seen significant economic growth, in part due to concerted urban revitalization plans.”2
Given its position in “Tornado Alley,” one area in which Tulsa needs a plan for resiliency is in establishing reliable emergency communications that reach all residents when weather emergencies arise. “Potentially deadly tornadoes and high wind events regularly harm structures and power lines, and do significant financial damage. The city has responded to high flood risks by creating one of the top floodplain management plans in the country, with a particular focus on urban planning and relocation.”2
That is in keeping with Tulsa’s history, too. CRO DeVon Douglass noted as much when she committed to “…building upon a foundation…in disaster resilience.”2
“Tulsa may seem an unlikely spokes-city for flood control, but it is a leader in storm-water management design in the United States,” writes Olivia Stinson, 100RC Associate Director of City Relationships.3
Catastrophic flooding of waterways such as Mingo Creek in the 1970s and ‘80s led the city to use local, State and Federal resources to “design and build a comprehensive storm-water management system—a dramatic change in the way Tulsa managed its land and infrastructure.” Building on these relationships and the funding made available, the city acquired over 900 private homes and businesses located in flood-prone areas and turned them into green spaces that function as detention ponds and parks, soccer fields and walking paths. The result is “a system that is visually appealing, environmentally sustainable, and perhaps most importantly, provides other benefits in the absence of flooding.” For example, as 100 Resilient Cities reports, Tulsa Centennial Park serves as valuable public space most of the year and provides essential flood water detention when it rains.
According to a case study published by Naturally Resilient Communities, “the construction of this network of landscaped buffers and detention basins provided Tulsa with the critical green space needed to manage flooding during major storms. Since the project’s creation, local property owners and businesses have not had any major property losses due to flooding. And by allowing the city to plan around flooding hazard areas, the plan has reduced any negative economic impacts that flooding in the area could cause, which has led to social and community benefits as well. Because of its successful flood protection approach, Tulsa boasts one of the nation’s best flood insurance policies. Residents have received up to a 35 percent discount from their premiums that are adjusted to reflect their properties’ reduced flood risk.”
As 100 Resilient Cities concludes, “embracing the natural dynamism of the floodplain has made Tulsa more resilient.”
1 2016 Resilient Cities Summit, Solutions for Sustainable Land Use, US Green Buildings Council
2 100 Resilient Cities, Tulsa’s Resilience Challenge, http://www.100resilientcities.org/cities/tulsa