Cities, Climate Change, Sustainability, United States

San Francisco. Photo by Sarah Stephinson.

Faced with potential disasters that read like a list of Hollywood blockbusters, San Francisco is among the increasing number of cities that are taking steps to increase their resiliency.

Three years ago, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction began a campaign to build resilient communities around the world. Since then over 1,400 cities have signed the UNISDR Initiative.

San Francisco, the first major U.S. city to join UNISDR’s campaign, has been identified as a model city for engaging citizens in building resilience at the neighborhood level with a “whole community” approach. The city was invited by a UN advisory group to participate in a public-private dialogue on resilient investment, and in April 2013 held a workshop with 30 participants from the public and private sectors. The purpose was to define resilient investment and identify current successes and future needs. AECOM’s Claire Bonham-Carter, director of sustainable development, participated.

The city has an impressive sustainability track record and ambitions (by 2020, the city targets zero waste, carbon free electricity citywide and reduced per capita water use of 20%) – but also faces substantial risks from earthquakes, tsunamis, pandemics, severe storms and rising sea levels.

The challenges identified in San Francisco reflect the issues many cities face:

  • Persuading public, private and community investors to incorporate total cost of risk into decision-making
  • Increasing coordination for decision-making, emergency planning and regional planning
  • Identifying creative financing options
  • Setting appropriate incentives and regulations

Through the workshop the city has targeted next steps and formed a resilient investment focus group of public and private sector leaders. They’re working to apply UNISDR’s 10 essentials, incorporating resilience into Central Corridor Eco-District planning and creating a roadmap to resilience.

We can’t make any city immune to extreme weather, natural and man-made disasters and the uncertain impacts of climate change. But we can better prepare ourselves to minimize the disruptions, protect lives and property and improve the chances for continuity in our communities, economies and environments when disasters strike.

Is your city resilient? The UNISDR website has information on how you can get involved.

Originally published 06.11.2013

Author: Erik Miller