Prove your humanity

This story was originally published July 7, 2017.

Cities all over the world are receiving funding to become more resilient. That means preparing them to handle long-term stresses, like income inequality, and short-term shocks, like a flood. In 2014, Pittsburgh became one of those cities. It’s now part of the 100 Cities program, a Rockefeller Foundation initiative designed to help promote resiliency.

For our series, Hazardous to Your Health, Kara Holsopple spoke with Otis Rolley, 100 Resilient Cities Regional Director for North America, about how they are helping cities become more resilient and how Pittsburgh is helping lead the way.

LISTEN: “How Cities Are Planning to Survive Climate Change”

Allegheny Front: What are some of the issues in the 100 Cities that directly impact health and, specifically, environmental issues?

Otis Rolley: As we put together 100 resilient cities in 2013 there were three core areas that we were trying to address: globalization, urbanization and climate change. Throughout our cities around the globe, seawater rise, environmental justice issue, sanitation issues –there is a commonality whether that’s North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia —  all of them are really having to adjust and adapt to the realities that they are encountering. If you look at one of our member cities, Chicago, a couple years back a heat wave there killed dozens of people. In Miami, flooding; in Nashville, increased propensity of storms and tornadoes. Literally you can check the box in terms of the negative environmental impact that climate change is having, and how it is an increasing threat.

Otis Rolley speaks on urban resiliency at the TEDxMidAtlantic conference. Photo: Andy Babin / TEDxMidAtlantic

AF: What are some of the solutions that cities are coming up with? How are cities addressing these health issues?

OR: On the energy side, we’ve been working with our cities on issues of distributive energy and microgrids to really be able to deal with energy shortages, looking at ideas around using energy sources that are alternatives to fossil fuel such as wind and solar and then the micro-grids allowing our communities to be able to deal both in blue sky situations as well as when a shock hits our cities to still be able to provide power resources to some of our more vulnerable communities. And that as a direct impact particularly on the health and well-being and social cohesion of our communities.

AF: Microgrids help communities be independent of the larger grid which may fail them in some way during an emergency situation.

OR: That’s correct. Many of our cities as they’ve been looking at ways to reduce their carbon footprint and the amount of CO2 which has a direct effect on asthma. The work that we do with our cities to allow for the construction of more green infrastructure. All these things have an overall positive effect, trying to promote greater access to alternatives to cars in terms of our bikeshare programs which has a very positive effect not just in terms of reducing CO2 gases but also improving public health because you’re increasing exercise.

AF: What about all those other cities out there who aren’t part of the 100 Cities. Do these cities serve as a model? Is there a trickle down effect for communities that are outside of the city?

OR: Most definitely, and we like to think of it as a “trickle across” as opposed to trickle down. But, yes, we have seen evidence already of cities outside of our network hiring chief resilience officers. Many of our chief resilience officers are also very actively involved in national sustainability movements. It’s our goal in doing this work with our initial 100 to impact the overall resilience movement and to share so that not just our nation but the world could become much more resilient.

“Some larger and more affluent cities don’t have the degree of coordination that I see in Pittsburgh. And it’s impressive.”

AF: Why do you think it is that cities have embraced this challenge to deal with climate change to become more resilient where maybe the federal government has not or has been slower?

OR: I think it’s because cities are where the action is. Cities are where the rubber meets the road. There is less of an ability to be in denial or to be divorced from the reality of the day-to-day challenges. I think that’s why you have mayors and city managers and business leaders who have their headquarters in cities much more keenly aware and sensitive to these challenges. And much more open and excited about facing those challenges.

AF: You talked a little bit about similarities among some of the cities. Can you say if Pittsburgh has any unique qualities, either positive or negative?

OR: One of the things I’ve been very impressed with in Pittsburgh, as someone who is traveling all around the United States — 23 cities in total — is the amazing amount of collaboration, coordination and communication between the different sectors within Pittsburgh. I’ve been very much impressed that the academic community, the business community, and the public sector — particularly municipal government. The degree to which they collectively have a firm understanding of the challenges that they’re facing, how they are collectively building their muscles, is a competitive advantage. Some of my larger and more affluent cities don’t have the degree of coordination that I see in Pittsburgh. And it’s impressive.


Otis Rolley is the 100 Resilient Cities Regional Director for North America. You can explore Pittsburgh’s strategy for resilience on the 100 RC website.