American cities on the frontline of climate action are shifting their approach from primarily limiting man-made global warming to coping with it. Now, a new global initiative aims to make nearly a dozen of those cities into models that can spur "urban resiliency" around the world.
The Rockefeller Foundation's 100 Resilient Cities Network announced its first 33 participants earlier this month, including 11 U.S. cities that are featured here.
Image: Officers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers assess damage following Hurricane Sandy. Credit: Charlie Comer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Mayor Marie Gilmore
Alameda is one of four San Francisco Bay Area cities to participate in the 100 Resilient Cities Network. The city sits between two major fault lines—San Andreas and Hayward—and is surrounded by water, with limited access to mainland California. Earthquakes, sea-level rise, flooding and tsunamis all threaten Alameda's resiliency.
Its leaders are developing long-term strategies to keep the city habitable and functional in the event that the tunnels and bridges connecting it to the rest of the state shut down.
Credit: United States Coast Guard
Mayor Tom Bates
Berkeley is another of the four Bay Area cities in the network. It is working to ensure that the city's critical utility services would keep running in the event of a major regional disruption. Its efforts include building local clean energy supplies and "micro-grids" that could operate independently of the larger electricity system.
Credit: Daniel Parks
Mayor Matthew Appelbaum
Boulder is vulnerable to devastating wildfires because of persistent drought, warmer winter temperatures and hotter summers. In September, the region experienced unprecedented flooding that destroyed thousands of homes and killed ten people.
Boulder's leaders say they want a resiliency plan that will help them "bounce forward" as they recover from recent wildfires and the flood. The city is also fighting to break away from its electricity provider, Xcel Energy, to form a municipal utility that will develop more local renewable energy and "micro-grids."
Image: Wildfire in Boulder. Credit: anotherdrummer, flickr
El Paso, Texas
Mayor Oscar Leeser
El Paso sits on the U.S-Mexico border in the Chihuahuan Desert and is vulnerable to long droughts, which are threatening 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 was recently hit hard by two natural disasters. In 2006, a flood destroyed hundreds of homes, and a 2009 deep freeze left the city without electricity, gas and water for days. City leaders say they're working to create long-term strategies and emergency response plans that can prevent the crippling delays experienced in past events.
Image: The Franklin Mountains tower over El Paso. Credit: Paul Garland, flickr
Mayor Alvin Brown
Downtown Jacksonville sits on the St. Johns River, just miles from the Atlantic Coast and adjacent to swamps, marshes and creeks. The city is an important regional transit hub and is especially threatened by hurricanes, storm surges, wildfires and drought.
"At the end of the day, we want to make sure we’re always prepared to deal with any situation that can impact the quality of life for a generation," Mayor Brown said.
Image: Jacksonville skyline seen in the background. Credit: Jon Worth, flickr
Los Angeles, Calif.
Mayor Eric Garcetti
Population: 3.8 million
Los Angeles is the second most populous U.S. city. It is likely to become hotter and drier in the next few decades, according to researchers, while rising seas are expected to contaminate the city's groundwater and estuaries with salty water over time.
On top of climate threats, the city faces long-term sustainability challenges related to its growing population, which could strain its infrastructure, environment and economy if left unmanaged.
Image: Smog hovers over Los Angeles. Credit: Ben Amstutz, flickr
New Orleans, La.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu
New Orleans suffered a deadly and destructive disaster when Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast in 2005. The city remains extremely vulnerable to rising seas and coastal storms as certain areas continue to sink below sea level.
In Katrina's aftermath, New Orleans has worked to enhance flood protections, develop more affordable housing and improve its transportation and utility systems. City officials say the Rockefeller initiative will help them continue that work.
Image: New Orleans under water following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Credit: Greg Hounslow, flickr
New York, N.Y.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg (leaving office Dec. 31, 2013)
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio
Population: 8.4 million
New York City is the largest U.S. 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 in danger of sea-level rise, storm surge and hurricanes.
After Superstorm Sandy battered the East Coast in October 2012, Bloomberg launched an aggressive $19.5 billion resiliency and recovery agenda. City officials say they could use the Rockefeller network to help it carry out measures from that plan.
Image: An American flag is seen amid more than 100 residences burned in New York City's Breezy Point community of the Rockaways after a gas leak from Superstorm Sandy erupted into a fire. Credit: Walt Jennings for FEMA
Mayor Paul Fraim
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 filled-in marsh, parts of which are now sinking.
The city is working to develop plans for protecting essential utility infrastructure, public housing and communities from flooding and climate perils along its coast. But carrying out such measures is difficult. Republican state lawmakers who question the reality of climate change have hampered government support for action, and Norfolk is fiscally stressed.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Mayor Jean Quan
Oakland is one of four Bay Area cities to participate in the 100 Resilient Cities Network. It also sits precariously on two fault lines, and officials anticipate future earthquakes and hot, dry water-scarce seasons.
The city has an ambitious goal to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 36 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and has conducted multiple studies on potential impacts of sea-level rise and flooding. It plans to carry out seismic retrofits in buildings and develop long-term climate risk projections.
Image: A collapsed double-decker highway after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Credit: H. G. Wilshire, U.S. Geological Survey
San Francisco, Calif.
Mayor Edwin Lee
San Francisco is another Bay Area city in the regional collaboration on earthquake resiliency. It is a major transit link and a hub for biotechnology and internet companies.
The city already has stringent building safety codes, but officials working to prepare its residents and protect its infrastructure even further from future earthquakes, sea-level rise and wildfires.
Image: San Francisco's Chinatown overlooks the bay. Credit: Christian Mehflührer