The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing about programs and partnerships to develop innovative, effective approaches that maximize economic and social resiliency when investing public funds in local recovery and development.

On September 17, HUD’s Office of Economic Resilience launched the National Disaster Resilience Competition, which will distribute $1 billion of HUD Disaster Recovery funds to aid recovery from prior disasters and improve future resilience. Projects to help communities recover from a disaster and make them more resilient will be eligible for grants ranging from $1 million to $500 million. In collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation (RF), all eligible communities will have the opportunity to strengthen their proposals by attending Resilience Academies across the country. The academies are supported by RF, a non-governmental organization long at the forefront of helping improve community resiliency efforts around the world. The Resilience Academies will help communities maximize future long-term returns on public investments during and after the competition. Participation in these programs is limited to jurisdictions that were Presidentially-Declared Disaster Areas in 2011, 2012 or 2013—staggeringly that actually includes 48 states and 19 other jurisdictions.

Moreover, on October 23, the EPA invited communities to apply for technical assistance through the Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities Program. This program will support the ability of communities to “increase resilience to natural disasters and strengthen the economy, while protecting human health and the environment.” Whether a community is investing to improve flood resilience or planning development in cities or rural areas, integrating resiliency requirements is critical to the ultimate success of the community’s efforts.

Briefing Highlights:

  • Samuel Carter, Associate Director for Resilience, Rockefeller Foundation, explained that the antonym of resilience isn’t vulnerability or risk, but collapse. Resilience is really about avoiding systemic collapse, about keeping complicated, overlapping systems working to keep people safe.
  • There are two basic approaches to scaling resilience:
    • Deep: catalyzing innovation and integration to reframe how key actors and actions work
    • Broad: distributing solutions and influencing global debate and practices
  • There are two main tracks of resilience work at the Rockefeller Foundation: Resilience by Design and 100 Resilient Cities. The latter is a global network of cities that have been selected through annual competitions. The cities whose projects are deemed worthwhile receive funds from the Foundation to hire a Chief Resilience Officer and are provided with a set of tools and resources —as well as connections to private, nonprofit partners—to help them implement their strategy.
  • Resilience by Design is about tackling specific issues in specific places to change the paradigm. For instance, when it comes to water and coastal resilience, the old paradigm could be described as “pave, pipe, pump, and prevent” (i.e., engineering-based interventions). The new paradigm is to learn to live with water, to accommodate flooding.
  • Carter showcased four projects that are part of the Resilience by Design program, including three that are competition-based:
    • Structures of Coastal Resilience, a partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers to help cities on the East Coast that are susceptible to both river and sea flooding.
    • Changing Course, a partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers, New Orleans, and the state of Louisiana that focuses on preventing coastal erosion around the Mississippi Delta.
    • Rebuild by Design, a partnership with HUD to assist disaster recovery in Sandy-affected areas.
    • Natural Disaster Resilience Competition, a partnership with HUD to help eligible communities throughout the country build their permanent capacity to engage in resilience planning.
  • Harriet Tregoning, Director, Office of Economic Resilience, U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), explained that HUD is very involved in disaster recovery. It has been allocated more than $45 billion for long-term disaster recovery by Congress since 2000. HUD wants to invest these dollars not just to help communities rebuild, but to build back better and in a more resilient manner.
  • Design is a way of taking a set of problems and potentially finding a different answer. It is important to focus on the needs and aspirations of the community in question. Indeed, the more benefits are identified, the more buy-in there is.
  • Rebuild by Design has been a very successful, innovative partnership between HUD and the Rockefeller Foundation. It has involved extensive collaboration with philanthropies, universities, and across the federal government. Nearly $1 billion in funds were allocated to six winning projects across New York and New Jersey.
  • The two partners are now teaming up for the National Disaster Resilience Competition, which they hope will be just as successful. Their goals are:
    • To fairly allocate remaining disaster recovery funds
    • To apply science-based and forward-looking risk analysis to address needs
    • To provide resources to help communities plan and implement funds in a more resilient manner
    • To fully engage stakeholders about the impacts of climate change
    • To leverage investments from the philanthropic community as they help communities define problems, set goals, explore options, and craft solutions
  • The competition’s funds are meant to address the unmet recovery needs of the most impacted and distressed areas located in the 48 eligible states and 19 other jurisdictions.
  • Matthew Dalbey, Director, Office of Sustainable Communities, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), focused on EPA’s Smart Growth: Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities program. It provides quick, targeted assistance to communities to help them implement development approaches that protect the environment, improve public health, create jobs, expand economic opportunity, and improve overall quality of life.
  • EPA provides a self-assessment kit that generates baseline information about a community and its challenges, and gets the conversation going.
  • The Smart Growth program has five main sets of tools (“building blocks”) on offer for communities, which helps the EPA maximize the program’s impact despite a very limited budget. The five building blocks are:
    • Support for equitable development (to ensure that all members of a community benefit from its growth)
    • Support for infill development in distressed cities (to support economic growth in downtown areas)
    • Sustainability strategies for small cities and rural areas which are often the most vulnerable
    • Flood resilience for riverine and coastal communities
    • Bikeshare planning (to determine feasibility, planning, financing…)
  • Dalbey encouraged communities to apply to the Smart Growth program (the 2014 deadline is November 20).