By Paul Smart
Want an example of the true surrealism of modern times? It seems that the best answers for the rural marginalization and malaise that many blame for the rise of populist reactionary politics in recent years are urban in origin. Now that over half the world’s population lives in cities (and about 80 percent here in the US), the best policies for dealing with economic, social and even environmental ills are coming from municipalities, many of which speak to each other as transnational equals.
Talk about sticking a thumb into the eye of our American means of governance, and increasingly partisan politics.
And yet the logic is there: Not only are cities these days in the business of caring for millions, the center for the global economy, and the incubators for new experiments in everything from co-living to urban farming, but they’re also working together, more than nations in many instances, to push new frontiers for new economics, new ways of meeting increased societal needs, and ensuring the health, welfare, and empowerment of a majority of the world’s citizenry.
The word ”city” is related to the very concept of civilization, drawn from the Latin civitas, which was the original term for the idea of citizenship, or what’s involved in being an active member of a community.
Which is a roundabout way of bringing us to the latest tool for raising all our urban Hudson Valley boats, to stretch a metaphor, by adapting the newest form of intermunicipal resiliency planning that has been sweeping the world via the Rockefeller Foundation initiative, 100 Resilient Cities (100RC).
“We help cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social, and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century,” reads the vibrant 100ResilientCities.org website. “100RC supports the adoption and incorporation of a view of resilience that includes not just the shocks—earthquakes, fires, floods, etc.—but also the stresses that weaken the fabric of a city on a day to day or cyclical basis. Examples of these stresses include high unemployment; an overtaxed or inefficient public transportation system; endemic violence; or chronic food and water shortages. By addressing both the shocks and the stresses, a city becomes more able to respond to adverse events, and is overall better able to deliver basic functions in both good times and bad, to all populations.”
How are these lofty goals achieved, and how can the Hudson Valley Current help design a plan for the greater resiliency of our region?
The Rockefeller Foundation funds the establishment of a Chief Resilience Officer for its 100 cities, provides back up for the creation of a Resilience Strategy, and provides support through both the network itself, and piles of participating governmental and non-governmental agencies.
“Through these actions, 100RC aims not only to help individual cities become more resilient, but will facilitate the building of a global practice of resilience among governments, NGOs, the private sector, and individual citizens,” reads the website’s explanation for this planning and aid process.”100 Resilient Cities defines resilience as the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow, no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience. City resilience is about making a city better, in both good times and bad, for the benefit of all its citizens, particularly the poor and vulnerable.”
On an international basis, the big one hundred stretches from the American cities of Atlanta, Berkeley, Boston, Boulder, Chicago, Dallas, El Paso, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Louisville, Miami, Minneapolis, Nashville, New Orleans, New York, Norfolk, Oakland, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Tulsa, and Washington, DC, to major cities on all our continents (with the exceptions of France, Germany, Russia, and Turkey quite prominent).
Here in the Hudson Valley, we’re speaking about a network inclusive of Beacon and Newburgh, Poughkeepsie and Kingston, Hudson, and maybe even some of the Capital Region. Moreover, we’re looking at ways in which the thornier issues of economic parity, social welfare, business incubation, and governmental innovation get the same attention as shared services between counties and cities, coordinated business discussions as well as tourism opportunities, and the underlying ideals of a shared economy (upon which the Hudson Valley Currency is based).
“Although resilience incorporates notions of sustainability and disaster risk reduction (DRR), it goes far beyond these concepts because of the holistic and proactive approach it embodies,” reads the original FAQ that the Hudson Valley will now start building upon. “While sustainability is about putting the world into long-term balance amidst the depletion of natural resources, resilience looks for ways to make systems endure and even thrive in an imbalanced world. Resilience is also broader than DRR, as the latter concept is about reducing the damage caused by natural hazards while resilience is about developing a proactive and integrated plan addressing both shocks and stresses, from natural disasters and to adverse socio-economic trends. In essence, resilience doesn’t involve merely coping and adaptive strategies, but also transformative actions to make cities better, for both the short and long-term, in the good times and bad.”
Which is all one thing when you’re considering Nairobi or Beijing, but also the same thing when dealing with a Catskill or Ellenville. Here, with our counties and smaller towns and manageable diversity in an area that’s seen centuries of infrastructure work, and decades of utopian planning, things may be even more workable than on a conscientious urban basis. And given the influx of those coming here from great cities these days, a logical next step.
Which all begs the question: Does the invocation, acceptance and adherence to urban values and methodologies end up diluting the “localness” or rural values? Do we really need our partisanship to pit city versus farm, or small town and decentralized communities?
Consider the roots of the word “rural”, which stems from the Latin ruralis, meaning “of the countryside.” Then look a step further into the similar “rustic”, which can be charming in a rugged way, or provincial and crude.
Finally, consider where so many of the workable elements of communities and their governance emanate from: concepts of civic structure and fairness, as well as commerce and markets. Not to forget the very ideals of democracy; of republics.
Resiliency is a nonpartisan goal, as is sustainability. Which makes this new push to bring the wisdom of our world’s cities deeper into our Hudson Valley rural aggregation of large towns and small cities so timely. And right.
Visit hudsonvalleycurrent.org or 100ResilientCities.org for further information.