Introduction

This document creates a federal policy platform to enable mayors to advocate for sound policies relating to city resilience initiatives, while reducing federal barriers to local action.

This work was developed in collaboration with, and drawing from the expertise of, U.S. cities in the 100 Resilient Cities network, which represents leading cities around the country and the world who are committed to enhancing the physical, social and economic resilience of their communities.

The resilience of our cities is critical to the economic well-being of the nation. U.S. cities contribute almost 85% to national Gross Domestic Product, and house and provide critical services to over 80% of the nation’s citizens as well as a clear majority of our corporations, from the Fortune 1000 to small business. Cities are critical actors in ensuring the health, safety and well-being of their business, industries and the large and diverse populations they serve in their regions. For America to thrive, our cities and citizens must prosper and must feel like their insights and perspectives matter.

At the same time, cities face unprecedented risks from various shocks and stressors affecting their ability to meet their citizens’ needs. City infrastructure is aging and failing to keep pace with growing populations, improving technologies, and changing patterns of extreme weather. Cities have too little affordable rental housing, which is not well-funded and much of it not resilient to the effects of extreme weather. Cities are also seeking to improve their economic competitiveness and their commitment to improving social justice by providing workforce development opportunities, helping small businesses better manage risks, and passing needed reforms to juvenile justice system and programs affecting ex-offenders.

The cities in the 100RC network are committed to enhancing urban resilience, which can be a model for cities everywhere and should be supported and encouraged by the Federal Government. Urban resilience is defined as capacity of within a city to survive, adapt and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience. Strengthening city resilience is a national investment in our economy, strength, security and stability. These recommendations strive to ensure that federal actions are promoting urban resilience initiatives that help cities address current challenges and buffer against future impacts and changes.

The resilience of cities is also critical to the economic health and prosperity of 
the nation. In recent legislation and executive actions, Congressional committees and federal agencies have recognized the national economic importance of urban resilience and have made and recommended measures to support local actions to reduce risks. This is in part because the number of disasters declared each year has been steadily increasing, and recovery costs are becoming staggeringly expensive for the federal taxpayer. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), during fiscal years 2005 through 2014, the Federal Government obligated at least $277.6 billion across 17 federal departments and agencies for disaster assistance programs and activities. In 2017 alone, the federal government is on track to spend over $130 billion on disaster aid and recovery.

Cities and the Federal Government share a desire to reduce these impacts and costs, working together to address these 21st century challenges through better infrastructure, housing, economic and public safety policies.

Goal and Objectives of These Recommendations

The goal of this policy platform is to identify politically viable, actionable opportunities for reforming and improving federal programs to ensure the Federal Government can better support city efforts to build resilience. By using these recommendations and strategies, leaders will be able to remove enduring barriers to resilience and create resources and pathways to strengthen communities. These recommendations are actionable and feasible to implement, and will help the nation achieve the following objectives:

Invest: Focus federal resources on, and ease barriers to private investment in, the resilience of cities to expand resilient projects and programs

Operate: Streamline federal agency interaction to increase efficiency and interaction with local government

Protect: Enhance the nation’s safety and stability by protecting cities from physical and economic harm to reduce disruptions for disasters

Build: Incorporate resilient design, construction and operation in infrastructure systems to ensure the continuity of critical services and support job creation

Innovate: Encourage innovation in repairing and rebuilding infrastructure to develop a modern workforce and economic competitiveness

City Innovations in Resilience

Across the U.S. cities are demonstrating many innovative approaches for enhancing the resilience of communities and reducing long-term risks, while providing best-practice models for other cities and the Federal Government. These cities are transforming metropolitan areas with a range of resilience projects, programs and policies, in some cases supported by federal funding or technical assistance, and in all cases providing tangible benefits to the nation.

The cities of Atlanta, Chicago, New Orleans, Norfolk, Pittsburgh, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Tulsa and Washington, D.C. are utilizing innovative infrastructure strategies to manage increasing precipitation and storm water overflows.

Los Angeles’ Stormwater Program is renowned for the ability to control for both flood and pollution abatement. Utilizing funding from federal, state and local grants, the program also takes advantage of voter approved
Proposition O, which authorizes the City of Los Angeles to fund projects upwards of $500 million to prevent and remove pollutants from waterways and ocean. One site that has benefited from this is the South Los Angeles Wetlands Park, an expansive and innovative project using urban runoff from storm drains, sending trash and pollutants through constructed wetlands for treatment. Several years since construction, the wetlands have matured and have become established.

Honolulu, Greater Miami, New York City and San Francisco are all using natural and nature-based approaches such as constructed wetlands and living shorelines to dampen the impacts of storm surges along their shorelines.

New York City’s Staten Island Living Breakwaters Project created in HUD’s Rebuild by Design competition
leverages $60 million in CDBG-DR funds to implement an ecologically enhanced breakwater system to address
wave energy and shoreline erosion at Tottenville.

The cities of Boston, Boulder, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and New York are installing microgrids that can keep critical community assets powered during outages.

In 2015, Boston released the Boston Community Energy Study, which explores the potential for Community Energy Solutions (local energy generation, energy storage technologies, microgrids and district energy generation) and identifies opportunities for the city to create a more resilient power system, able to better withstand large weather events. One key finding was that the city and consumers could realize over $1 billion in savings and community benefits.

Chicago, New Orleans, New York City, Norfolk and Washington, D.C. are developing business incubators to spur job creating and lift workers out of poverty.

Launched in 2015, Strive New Orleans provides soft skills training and coaching for people struggling to find work.

Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Oakland, Denver, Los Angeles and Seattle are integrating public transit and affordable housing.

The Avondale Station Transit Oriented joint development project is a partnership between the Decatur Downtown Development Authority and the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA). This former parking lot will include 92 affordable senior housing units (20%) in line with the agency’s affordable housing goal stated in the Transit Oriented Development Guidelines, as well as over 400 market rate units, retail and institutional space, and a public plaza.
In Washington state, the Village at Overlake Station Transit Oriented joint development project is a partnership between King County, the King County Housing Authority and a private developer, using tax exempt financing and federal housing tax credits to build 308 affordable housing units, along with 536 parking spaces and a childcare center.

New Orleans, New York City, Norfolk, Los Angeles and San Francisco are retrofitting critical infrastructure to improve resilience to impacts from earthquakes, extreme temperature and flooding.

Because of future sea-level rise predictions for the region, Seattle is reconstructing the Elliott Bay Seawall, along its downtown waterfront, to protect critical transportation routes from flooding, meet current seismic standards and improve ecosystems, including salmon migration. This project will integrate recreational amenities to enhance community access to the waterfront, enabling the site to enhance everyday life for residents, downtown workers and visitors.

Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York, Norfolk, Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington DC have created state of the art Emergency alert systems.

Emergency alert and warning systems: Using best in class communication platforms can enable a city to stay connected during and following a crisis. Los Angeles County has implemented an emergency mass notification system that is used to contact County residents and businesses via recorded phone messages, text messages or e-mail messages in case of emergency. The system, called Alert LA County, is used by the County’s Emergency Operations Center to notify residents and businesses of emergencies or critical situations and provide information regarding necessary actions, such as evacuations. The system utilizes the telephone companies’ existing 911 database and is able to contact land-line telephone.

Several Cities are increasing emergency response and making long-term changes to the built environment to address the impact of extreme heat on public health.

Honolulu Community College’s Fire & Environmental Emergency Response Program provides training for entry level skills and professional development opportunities.26

Many cities around the nation are developing robust plans to support mid and long-term recovery after a disaster event.

Seattle’s Office of Emergency management has creating an award winning model emergency management program that incorporates risk reduction for residents, communities and businesses.

Federal Role in City Resilience

To undertake this important and challenging work cities need dedicated support from federal partners in both Congress and the Executive Branch.

The Federal Government plays critical roles that are essential to the success of city resilience initiatives:

  • Federal agencies provide critical data, science and tools to help communities understand their social, economic and environmental risks, and plan for and mitigate these risks.
  • Federal funds assist with rebuilding aging and deteriorating infrastructure and providing important social services.
  • The Federal Government provides flood insurance, often the last line of defense in the event of a flood loss.
  • Federal agencies enforce regulations to protect public health and the environment.
  • Recommendations in this report focus on modifying federal roles and generating additional resources to empower city resilience initiatives.
  • The Federal Government and Congress determine resource allocation to states, counties and cities through many different authorities. They regulate activities and provide useful tools to promote and protect communities. The following chart demonstrates whether they provide funding, whether they regulate activities that they have not funded, and whether they provide data functions.

This report highlights both legislative and agency actions that would help cities in their efforts to enhance community resilience. The powers and programs of these federal agencies are governed by legislation and appropriations determined by Congress. Federal agencies can in many cases use existing programs and authorities to enact change that will support local resilience work, however, where congressional action is needed, this report indicates statutory solutions for enactment by Congress.

Cities have identified opportunities to improve three key functions of Federal Government that will strengthen the nation against shocks and stresses:

Funding: The Federal Government is a key funder of cities’ resilient infrastructure, affordable housing, economic development and criminal justice services, in addition to being a major force in disaster response and recovery. Cities lack sufficient resources for all needed resilience investments in infrastructure, housing, economic development, criminal justice and disaster risk mitigation. Cities large and small report it is too difficult to use available moneys in the ways that are needed, and the federal funds available do not encourage, and in some cases, hinder private investment in resilience. Several policy recommendations in this report address these barriers, including: shoring-up funding for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), developing a national infrastructure bank and funding workforce development programs for resilience projects to create job opportunities.

Regulation: Federal regulations are foundational to the health and functioning of America’s cities, such as setting minimum floodplain regulatory requirements and ensuring clean and safe drinking water. These regulations can help or hinder city resilience initiatives.

Data & Technical Guidance: The Federal Government provides critical science, data and tools to help cities understand their risks and develop strategies to reduce those risks in their communities. Federal initiatives like the National Climate Assessment, Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps, U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit and Regional Integrated Science Assessments are key in helping cities understand and reduce risks. These initiatives should be maintained, strengthened and improved. At the same time, technical guidance, such as resilient infrastructure metrics, will help cities be safer, stronger and more resilient.

This report offers a menu of federal recommendations organized into four chapters focusing on infrastructure, housing, city economies and public 
safety. Each chapter includes a set of strategies, background on the issue, an explanation of the role of the Federal Government, potential allies in advocating for the recommendations, and relevant examples of current or previous federal, state, and local actions. To better support city resilience initiatives, these recommendations include elevated level proposals for both legislative and agency actions. Policy and program changes that will increase or leverage investment from the private sector are highlighted. The Appendices include a selected reading list of articles and reports from government and non-governmental organizations, and a list of contributors to this project.

Next: Promote Safe and Resilient Infrastructure