City Resilience Planning: What can Campuses Learn?

This post was written by Valerie Weiner, Climate Programs Intern.

Incorporating resilience into a Climate Action Plan can be complicated and time intensive for colleges and universities. For many schools new to the process, planning for resilience can seem like a daunting task. City Resilience Plans are a resource for ideas and concepts that can help guide this process. Though there are important differences between city and campus institutions, there are many opportunities for collaboration, growth, and information sharing that will help campus plans move forward.

I analyzed fourteen different City Resilience Plans to find where there was overlap and outliers in their approaches to resilience planning and implementation. The cities were chosen with an attempt to have varied geographic and socio-economic representation.  Among the fourteen plans, three major themes emerged:

1.  Creating specific metrics and goals is critical to a successful plan.

New York City’s Resiliency Plan has incredibly detailed metrics that make resilience seem more achievable, and answer the question “how will we carry out our goals?” with actions that have clear implementation partners, funding streams, and steps to move forward. Examples include:

  • Number of affordable houses needed to help increase social resilience
  • Federal dollars needed for coastal protection projects to increase environmental resilience
  • Number of buildings with reduced coastal risk to increase infrastructural resilience

Plans that did not achieve this level of data analysis produce more theoretical goals that are difficult to implement. Philadelphia’s Resiliency Plan goes only as far to identify ‘early implementation opportunities’ including:

  • Preserving open space in flood hazard areas
  • Acknowledging and addressing climate change issues in district plans
  • Consider innovative options for voluntary transfers of development rights

While these are great steps forward, they could be more specific. They still leave the question “how” open-ended. The more cities ask “how,” the more likely they are to create specific, actionable, and robust goals.

2.  Separating the components of a plan into metric themes has benefits and challenges.

Many plans separate their metrics into:

  • Basic Components: Terms, Goals, Time Frame per Action Step, Implementation Partners, Targets (metrics), Shocks and Stressors, and Financing/Funding Streams
  • Economic and Social: Jobs, Housing, Healthcare, Community Engagement, and Inequality/Race
  • Infrastructure: Transportation, Buildings, Utilities, and Renewables
  • Environmental: Natural Disaster, Coastal Protection, Flooding, Extreme Heat, Parks, Water and Waste, Food Supply  

The benefit of this approach is that schools can hypothetically create more actionable, defined goals. The downside is that systemic and intersectional relationships between the metrics are less obvious. Plans from Cleveland, Madison, and New York City incorporate the national and global context in their Plans. This helps to understand how each metric interacts, identifies possible funding streams, and highlight new vulnerabilities that may have been overlooked. Cleveland’s plan, for example, investigates solutions that can address multiple metrics and systemic issues at once—which they call “co-benefits”. Integrating co-benefits creates solutions that address the intersectional relationships between metrics and their larger context that could otherwise go unaddressed.

3. Funding and partners are critical components of a successful plan.

To start, it is necessary that plans take the important step of identifying funding streams and implementation partners. The 100 Resilient Cities Model does a great job of ensuring that each participant defines exactly who is involved in each action step, and where the funding will come from (if it is known). However, not one plan explained why or how the partners were chosen or how they plan to maintain the relationship through to completion. City plans could be improved with implementation partners and funding streams that have a clear agreement or contract in place.  

Take-Aways for Educational Institutions:

Take advantage of the resources at your disposal and diversify as much as possible.

Cities use the experts from different departments within their jurisdiction as implementation partners and for data analysis; schools should follow suit and include professors, employees, and/or students in the process of developing action steps. Using internal resources will save the cost of hiring an outside consultant and spread out the time-intensive work that would have been allocated to a few people. Diversifying the people involved will help combat issues of models that may miss important vulnerabilities. Even external resources like city plans serve as great (free) resources for data on regional or city-wide indicators that also impact the more localized school community.

Identify both the macro and micro relationships between the different metrics.

Metrics will vary per school, based on geography, scale, available funding etc. While it is important to acknowledge what makes schools unique, it is also important to put that uniqueness into a larger context. As previously mentioned, plans like Madison, Wisconsin’s emphasize and distinguish the impact of federal and state policies on their city resilience. By doing so, they are able to identify public funding streams and barriers that other plans may overlook. This could help create a plan that is more informed, effective and resilient to change in the long run.

Think of creative ways to enforce relationships with implementation partners and funding streams.

First, it is critical that both partners and funding are identified for each action step even if it is only to say that they will be identified. If the school can identify one or both of these supports, it would be helpful to find a way to ensure that there will be follow-through. A co-benefit agreement in which there is an exchange of services between the two could be one approach, another is a legally binding contract or verbal agreement. The latter approach is decidedly more difficult to secure but may be worth pursuing considering the stakes.