Toward Resilient Cities and Landscapes

Last month, 100 Resilient Cities and Columbia University announced the creation of the “Resilience Accelerator” to help cities take on critical projects that address their major challenges. This is the inaugural project of the new Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP), made possible with support from the Rockefeller Foundation. The Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes is dedicated to helping communities thrive in an age of climate uncertainty.

On Tuesday, March 27, the center celebrated its launch with an event on the Morningside campus, joined by over 200 students, faculty and guests. The event gave the audience some insight into the goals of the new center, highlighted some opportunities for engagement, and incorporated an academic discussion on the topic of resilient cities. The event was supported by the Earth Institute’s Climate Adaptation Initiative, whose work is closely allied with that of the center.

The evening began with a welcome from Radley Horton, a climate scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and co-chair of the Climate Adaptation Initiative. Horton gave a broad overview of the impacts of climate change in our cities, noting the important work already being done in climate mitigation and adaptation to improve livelihoods and strengthen infrastructure.

Courtney Smith from the Rockefeller Foundation then gave short remarks, highlighting the importance of the Resilience Accelerator to address challenges of resilience worldwide, and the benefit of aligning the expertise of an academic institution with 100 Resilient Cities. Pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation, 100 Resilient Cities is a global network of practice dedicated to helping cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges.

Sam Carter, director of the Resilience Accelerator, discussed how in 20 years, close to 75 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. In fact, many of the cities of the future haven’t been built yet, so there is real opportunity to think through how to build safer, more resilient urban areas. This Resilience Accelerator has a $3.7 million grant to help cities and city officials do just that, using a design approach.

Kate Orff, director of the new center and an associate professor at GSAPP, where she directs the urban design program, gave the audience insight into a few planned activities. Internally at Columbia, this grant will enable new courses, studios, seminars and certificate programming, and will connect students and faculty to this global network of resilience leaders.

The center is soon launching a cities challenge and a faculty challenge and will have three associate research scholar positions. This center will also help convene creative, scenario-driven workshops with global partners.


The event then turned to a panel discussion, moderated by Thaddeus Pawlowski, an adjunct assistant professor at GSAPP and managing director of the new center. This discussion featured Kate Orff and Radley Horton, along with Upmanu Lall, director of the Columbia Water Center at the Earth Institute. The panel discussion centered around a central question: how do we build resilient cities and landscapes?

Panelists discussed the definition of resilience and the importance of the resilience framework to build solutions that are adaptable and multi-sectoral. The design framework, in particular, has the power to synthesize and bring multiple perspectives into a proactive, solutions-oriented dialogue. Resilience is ultimately about people and having planning processes that are inclusive, transparent, and participatory, and that take into account the issues, needs, and values of communities, will be extremely important in constructing solutions. There is a built-in objection to change, which is one of the biggest obstacles to resilience.

Solutions to these challenges will require both research and capacity-building, and this new center encompasses just that. It connects academia and thought leadership to the practice network of 100 Resilient Cities, in a way that can break down silos and apply research to real-world issues and policy decisions.

Watch the talks and panel event below to learn more.

— Hayley Martinez, Earth Institute

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