American Steel sculpture by Karen Cusolito. (City of Oakland photo by Greg Linhares)

Defining Resilience in Oakland: It Takes a Town to Thrive

By Mayor Libby Schaaf, City of Oakland

Oakland is one of the most diverse, creative and progressive urban coastal cities in the United States.

As a major city in the Bay Area, Oakland also sits within one of the most prosperous economic growth engines in the world. The benefits of this growth, as acutely felt in Oakland, are not equitably distributed.

Today, particularly among low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, Oakland faces rapidly rising income inequality and housing displacement, chronic homelessness, disparate unemployment and education rates. And while Oakland is getting safer, it is still not as safe as it deserves to be and many parts of our city bear the brunt of this struggle more directly.

To design a strategy of action on these resilience challenges, Oakland was one of the first cities to be selected as part of Rockefeller’s 100 Resilient Cities global network. Today, we answer our call to action for how we define resilience in Oakland and launch the Resilient Oakland Playbook.

So how do we define resilience in Oakland?

Resilience in Oakland means expanding equitable access to quality education and jobs, housing security, and community safety.

Resilience in Oakland means building vibrant and smart infrastructure to better prepare us for shocks like earthquakes and stresses like climate change.

Resilience in Oakland means catalyzing our diverse pool of talents and perspectives to tackle systemic, interdependent challenges both inside and outside our government.

In this time of hyper-prosperity brought on, in part, by the technology and real estate booms in the San Francisco Bay Area, Oakland is uniquely positioned to take advantage of its growth while remaining true to its roots and sense of self. As the birthplace of the women’s suffrage movement and the Black Panther Party, Oakland has long been an innovative, mission-driven city committed to social justice and equitable growth. Our town attracts renowned activists, artists, makers, and other risk-takers within its 78 square miles addressing the serious issues of our day.

Our current challenges are an opportunity to do what Oakland has always done: rethink old paradigms and balance the equation of access to opportunity while building more creative and vibrant infrastructure to support our promising future.

The Resilient Oakland playbook sets forth nearly 40 actions designed to be collaborative, data-driven, and equitable. By taking a continuous build, measure and learn approach to resiliency from ‘little bets’ to ‘moonshots’, we honor the work that has been done and how we build on it today while setting forth bold actions that shape the future of a more resilient Oakland.

But what does this look like in action?

Last week, we launched a strategic plan for our newly created Department of Transportation to increase mobility and safety for our residents in a more affordable and reliable way. This strategic plan is one of the first of its kind to emphasize equity as a means for prioritizing infrastructure projects.

On the housing side, we are taking a human-centered design approach with tenants and property owners to design a digital service for our rent adjustment program.

To further our economic security work, we are breaking down workforce data by demographic population to better address the needs of our underserved residents.

To deepen our equity work, we are co-designing principles of engagement with local community organizations to create a feedback loop between community input and service delivery.

Though comprehensive in scope, the Resilient Oakland playbook is not a finished product or a plan in the traditional sense. Rather, this playbook is a call to action. The Resilient Oakland playbook celebrates a City government opening itself up to the idea that change is inevitable — we must now harness it for the benefit of our growing town.