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American Cities Tapped to Spur 'Climate Resiliency' Action Worldwide

'Resiliency has risen to one of the top subjects that we talk about now in the sustainability world.'

Dec 18, 2013
(Page 2 of 3 )

Here is a sampling of U.S. cities participating in the 100 Resilient Cities Network, the climate challenges they face and their plans for resiliency.

Boulder, Colo.

Mayor: Matthew Appelbaum

Population: 101,800

The Boulder region is vulnerable to devastating wildfires because of persistent drought, warmer winter temperatures, hotter summers and a climate-related infestation of pine beetles that has killed off millions of acres' worth of trees. The past two wildfire seasons have been the most destructive in the state's history. The fires are degrading the soil, which increases the risk of mudslides and widespread flooding during heavy rains.

Boulder has updated its flood zone maps and started revising its building codes, flood regulations and wastewaster and drinking water infrastructure to handle severe floods. The city is also fighting to break away from its electricity provider, Xcel Energy, to form a municipal utility dedicated to buying more renewable energy and helping residents install rooftop solar panels. Boulder would use the Rockefeller money in part to develop strategies for renewable-powered "micro-grids" that could keep running even if the larger electricity system failed. 

El Paso, Texas

Mayor: Oscar Leeser

Population: 672,500

El Paso sits in the Chihuahuan Desert and is vulnerable to long droughts, which threaten to reduce the city's drinking water supply. To address that risk, the city built a desalination plant in 2007 and has strict water conservation policies in place.

It is also subject to rare bursts of heavy rains and cold spells. El Paso is working to avoid a repeat of the crippling delays and destruction that followed the 2006 flood and 2009 deep freeze. It has purchased homes in flood-damaged neighborhoods and built detention ponds in their place. Through the Rockefeller initiative, the city plans to form neighborhood response groups that can act quickly in an emergency or natural disaster. It also wants to deploy more back-up generators and small-scale renewable energy projects to prevent widespread disruptions.

New York City

Mayor: Michael Bloomberg (leaving office Dec. 31, 2013)/Mayor-elect: Bill de Blasio

Population: 8.4 million

New York City is America's largest city and a financial capital of the world. Its proximity to water and the loss of thousands of acres of wetlands over centuries makes it especially vulnerable to sea-level rise, storm surge and hurricanes.

Among the Rockefeller participants, New York is ahead of the curve. It already has a dedicated position for resiliency in the Mayor's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability and a $19.5 billion plan to make New York safer and stronger from future disasters. It outlines plans to study tidal gates, build beachfront bulwarks and dunes and collaborate with the electric and telecommunications utilities to ensure critical equipment can withstand extreme weather events. Daniel Zarrillii, the city's resiliency director, said the Rockefeller support could help New York carry out such measures.

Norfolk, Va.

Mayor: Paul Fraim

Population: 245,800

Norfolk is in the Chesapeake Bay and surrounded by rivers and wetlands. It is one of the U.S. cities most vulnerable to both hurricanes and sea-level rise. Much of Norfolk was built on marshland, parts of which are now sinking. City officials have produced long-term risk analyses, formed an experts advisory group and developed plans for protecting property and infrastructure.

But addressing the waterfront issues has been difficult. Among other challenges, a contingent of climate-denying state lawmakers has slowed progress for new policies. This fall, Norfolk Mayor Fraim joined a group of Virginia mayors in Williamsburg to plead for state assistance in combating eroding coastlines and recurrent flooding. "The notion is that if the local governments are not strongly pushing these matters forward, then the state is not going to do it," Fraim said in an interview. He added that Norfolk is fiscally stressed: More than one-third of city property is off the tax rolls, since it's home to a U.S. naval station, and about 15 percent of residents are poor and struggle to pay taxes.

The Rockefeller network will provide funding to help develop plans for protecting essential utility infrastructure, public housing and communities from waterfront perils, he said.

Oakland, Calif.

Mayor: Jean Quan

Population: 400,700

Oakland is one of four San Francisco Bay Area cities participating in the network and a major U.S. transit hub for ports and railroads. It sits precariously between the San Andreas and Hayward faults. In 1989, the major Loma Prieta earthquake collapsed a double-decker freeway. City officials anticipate future earthquakes and hot, dry water-scarce seasons.

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