Friday, August 18, 2017

Mandalay: Braving 21st century challenges

Last week the US-based Rockefeller Foundation added 35 more cities to its list of the world’s most “resilient cities”, joining the 32 that had been named during the first round in 2013.

Mandalay motorcyclists negotiate the streets of one of the world’s most resilient cities, according to the US-based Rockefeller Foundation. Photo: StaffMandalay motorcyclists negotiate the streets of one of the world’s most resilient cities, according to the US-based Rockefeller Foundation. Photo: Staff

Cities are chosen for the 100 Resilient Cities list based on their ability to brave the changes that come with economic growth, natural disaster and other factors that impact urban areas.

Among the cities included in the 2013 list was Mandalay, along with such diverse candidates as Bangkok, Thailand; Christchurch, New Zealand; Dakar, Senegal; Los Angeles, United States; Quito, Ecuador; and Rome, Italy.

The Rockefeller Foundation’s relationship manager Katya Sienkiewicz took time last week to answer questions from The Myanmar Times Mandalay Bureau Chief Stuart Alan Becker about the 100 Resilient Cities list and how Mandalay fits the criteria for inclusion.

Why was Mandalay chosen to be part of 100 Resilient Cities list?

There is an ineluctable energy around Myanmar, and Mandalay in particular. A captivating ancient kingdom city, and the country’s second-largest, Mandalay is the economic driver of the country, and growing at a rapid clip. The city sent in a compelling application to the 100 Resilient Cities challenge, combining their geographical vulnerabilities situated near highly active tectonic plates as well as the cyclical flooding they face from their position on the Ayeyarwady River.

Flooding frequency is said to be on the rise and Mandalay’s rapid economic development and building expansion into the more flood-prone areas is threatening to increase the impacts of these floods. They have invested in disaster risk reduction, but are looking to prepare more holistically for the natural shocks they are prone to, as well as some of the everyday stresses they are grappling with. From the burgeoning population and increased traffic, and traffic-related accidents, to their increasing need for solid internet/communication infrastructure and upgraded built environment infrastructure, the city has a number of challenges as it continues to burgeon.

With thoughtful, engaged city leadership at the Mandalay City Development Committee, the city is well-poised to think strategically about how to reconcile the sundry new public and private sector initiatives coming into the city. Mandalay is well poised to be the resilience planning champion for the rest of Myanmar and farther afield.

What is the object of this list of cities? Economic growth?

The purpose of 100 Resilient Cities, and our work in cities at large, is to help cities become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century. For one city, increasing resilience may be tied to economic growth, while for another, increasing resilience may be tied to fostering social cohesion.

Anything about Mandalay that stands out, making it different from other places?

In many ways Mandalay struggles with the same shocks and stresses as other cities in our network, but the energy and optimism of this exciting point in time for this ancient city makes it stand alone. It is transforming into a booming economic powerhouse at the crossroads of China and India, while maintaining its unique cultural heritage, and that makes it an exciting vanguard space to be involved in. We are thrilled to be partnering with Mandalay and look forward to planning to help solve and learn from their resilience challenges with them.

Courtesy of the Rockefeller Foundation.Courtesy of the Rockefeller Foundation.

Can you explain a bit about the Rockefeller Foundation?

From funding Jane Jacobs in the 1960s to the 100 Resilient Cities Challenge today, the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) has viewed cities as more than just places to live and work, but rather as networks of interdependent systems, laboratories of innovation, and centres of opportunity and prosperity.

RF has supported a decade’s worth of resilience work, beginning in New Orleans to build a unified community development plan in the years after Hurricane Katrina, and working in Asian cities to build urban resilience in communities on fragile ecologies along coastlines and rivers.

In New York – before, and now after, Superstorm Sandy – RF supported research on coastal and urban resilience, including the Rising Currents exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art showcasing green infrastructure solutions for New York’s waterfront from a group of forward-thinking architects, engineers and landscape designers. After Sandy, New York State Governor Mario Cuomo appointed Judith Rodin to make recommendations on how New York State could improve the resilience of its infrastructure and systems.

How was the concept of 100 Resilient Cities originally conceived?

It was launched on the foundation’s centennial in 2013 as a way to implement many of the innovations that Rockefeller has developed over the last 50 years of their urban planning work.

What were the criteria for the choice of the cities on the list?

While each city is different, we’ve found that our strongest partners share four characteristics:

  • An innovative, engaged and committed chief executive. We believe that resilience building is broader than just city government, but we also know city government is necessary. From Christchurch to Medellin and in between, we’ve found that having a mayor with these characteristics leads to a stronger, more empowered chief resilience officer; more decisions being made through a resilience lens; and a more comprehensive, cross-siloed and cross-sectored resilience building process. We’ve also found it important to have some measure of political stability, since the process unfolds over the course of several years.
  • A recent catalyst for change. It may seem obvious, but it bears repeating: A city that has a strong catalyst for change – be it a recent shock such as Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, or a truly pressing stress such as rising sea levels in Norfolk – is likely to be more engaged in the resilience building process.
  • A demonstrated ability to work with a broad range of invested stakeholders. Shocks and stresses affect everyone in a city, so resilience-building must be done across silos of government and sectors of society. In places like Los Angeles, we are seeing collaboration among everyone from business leaders, to advocates for the homeless, to academic water experts taking part in the planning process. This participation by a range of stakeholders ensures that as many resilience challenges as possible are being surfaced, and that everyone’s resilience needs – especially those of the poor and vulnerable – will be addressed.
  • A willingness to engage in a partnership. 100 Resilient Cities seeks to work closely with cities over a multi-year process, building a deep and abiding partnership, and a give-and-take. We’re looking for cities that are willing to work with us to build resilience, that have an open mind toward the process, and that can incorporate feedback from a wide variety of sources.