Michael Berkowitz is a pupil of catastrophe, and a guru on how cities climate them. As the previous government director of the nonprofit consultancy 100 Resilient Cities, and now as founding principal on the related Resilient Cities Catalyst, he has labored with dozens of native governments all over the world to plan for hurricanes, droughts, earthquakes, terrorist assaults, mass shootings, illness outbreaks, and different social shocks.
Now, as a world disaster unfolds within the type of coronavirus, Berkowitz is making an attempt to suppose forward as he shelters at dwelling in New York Metropolis. He’s in search of indicators of how communities will survive the aftermath, in addition to for alternatives to strengthen resilience now within the face of social and financial disruption.
“The bottom line is to consider linking varied goals collectively,” he stated over the telephone. “How can one explicit intervention reach strengthening a metropolis throughout numerous completely different areas?”
Berkowitz, who additionally served as deputy commissioner of New York Metropolis’s workplace of emergency administration within the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist assaults and has achieved world threat administration at Deutsche Financial institution, spoke with CityLab over the telephone on Thursday. This interview has been edited and condensed for readability.
First: Outline this idea of resilience in cities. What’s it, and the way do you construct it?
City resilience is the power or capability of a metropolis to outlive and thrive in face of catastrophe, any sort of catastrophe. It seems that the capacities that cities — or states, or nations — have to survive and thrive within the face of all these completely different threats are fairly broad. It consists of good infrastructure that promotes mobility and sustainable transportation. It’s additionally cohesive communities the place neighbors verify in on neighbors. It’s a various economic system with a powerful middle-class jobs base. It’s good governance with a number of stakeholders at a decision-making desk. All of these issues assist communities overcome regardless of the subsequent disaster is perhaps.
To construct resilience, the trick is linking completely different objectives collectively. Once you’re doing financial growth, how are you going to additionally make your self higher protected for floods? When occupied with mobility, how are you going to improve biodiversity or scale back publicity to excessive warmth? When occupied with governance and neighborhood engagement, how do you construct belief and confidence in elected officers in order that in disaster conditions folks hearken to and observe the recommendation of elected leaders?
What are one of the best examples of fine governance you’ve seen to this point within the coronavirus response?
Nicely, one remark is how governors appear to be having far more influence than mayors throughout this pandemic, as a result of they’ve been in a position to have a remit throughout varied administrative boundaries. In New York state, the primary cluster of case was north of the town in Westchester County, in New Rochelle. By now, clearly New York [City] has seen nearly all of circumstances. However whereas the mayor has been necessary spokesperson, the governor has wielded far more energy and has been in a position to unify the state round Westchester. It’s been the state that has acted extra rapidly round testing, organising the drive-through testing websites, together with one within the metropolis.
In order that’s been in an attention-grabbing instance of state authority, which I by no means would have anticipated, by the way in which. In previous East Coast cities, with their protocols and histories and authorized authorities for public well being emergencies as a result of they handled smallpox, tuberculosis, cholera, and different plagues of previous, I’d have thought that mayors can be within the driver’s seat with this. However it seems like governors are main the cost.
How would you charge the resilience that the U.S. has proven to this point?
Michael Kimmelman wrote this week within the New York Occasions about how pandemics are anti-urban as a result of the issues we worth in cities, like density and connection, are the issues which are least fascinating throughout a pandemic. That’s true — however solely within the response section, which we’re in proper now. The issues that we’d like now are very explicit: It’s public well being surveillance and testing capability. It’s the power to innovate and produce therapies, whether or not these are vaccines or anti-viral therapies. It’s surge capacities in hospitals, whether or not it’s ventilators and masks or extra beds. It’s the power of the general public to soak up and cling to recommendation that we’re getting about protecting measures to take.
However a method or one other, within the coming months or later, we are going to break the chain of transmission. Then we’re going to search for and have our small companies hurting or closed, our most poor and weak folks struggling, plenty of folks within the center class who didn’t have security nets or full-time employment in search of work, the stigmatization of varied ethnic, racial, or demographic teams who we predict may need achieved issues to place us in danger — all of that is going to emphasize our society so considerably.
And when that subsequent section hits, that’s after we’ll see advantages of city resilience — of neighbors checking in on one another, sturdy neighborhood establishments, numerous economies, good governance. These issues will repay in methods that can allow us to rebound from this case and hopefully allow us to construct stronger communities.
The factor is, we’re nonetheless so early in. Per week of staying at dwelling seems like without end, however we’re simply on the very tip of the iceberg in some ways. We’ll see which communities are roughly resilient within the subsequent months and years to return.
What sorts of actions ought to communities take now to organize for that second section?
I really feel prefer it’s a little bit untimely, since we’re nonetheless on a steep upslope of making an attempt to flatten the curve and ensuring our hospitals and medical system could make it by means of intact. However I’ll say that when Congress begins speaking about delivering help to folks, establishments, and companies, that’s while you begin to consider the resilience-building alternatives we’d have.
What would possibly a few of these alternatives be?
Within the U.S., there’s in all probability going to be a jobs stimulus. And that can probably include numerous new infrastructure that we construct. That offers us this unimaginable alternative to construct extra resilient infrastructure and to have interaction communities as we do it, since they’re going to dwell with it for generations. We also needs to speak about local weather change mitigation and adaptation, as a result of if we’re doubtlessly going to get an entire new technology of infrastructure due to this pandemic, then we have now to do it higher than final technology. That means, like, no highways that segregate communities from financial facilities.
We also needs to set new objectives — we have now the instruments to consider financial growth, public well being, biodiversity, and flood management suddenly. Now we have the beginnings of examples of what these kinds of tasks appear like, equivalent to constructing massive swaths of inexperienced infrastructure to guard cities from sea stage rise, just like the BIG U in Manhattan.
There will even be any variety of completely different help packages to advertise financial growth and neighborhood establishments, out and in of presidency. With the correct pointers we will make certain these investments work for a number of advantages. One instance is how, after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans noticed itself as overexposed to local weather change in addition to the petrochemical business. Over the previous 5 years, the town has tried to incubate a water administration sector that the town might then export as a core competency, in the way in which the Dutch do. So how do cities diversify economies in a approach that solves a number of objectives, whether or not it’s racial justice or mobility or well being.
One final concept — I haven’t thought an excessive amount of about this but, nevertheless it looks like we’re going to bail out the airline business. Nicely, what if we took a few of that cash and devoted it to high-speed rail? That’d be big. And what if we used the bailout cash to push airways in direction of carbon neutrality earlier than they’d usually get there? They’re an enormous contributor to the local weather disaster.
What a good suggestion. Congress, are you listening?
Proper. I simply know [U.S. Secretary of the Treasury] Steve Mnuchin goes to learn this, name me up, and simply get on this.
These are large-scale modifications to enhance the resiliency of infrastructure and economies — what about for people or neighborhoods? What can they do to strengthen our collective restoration?
Even motion at actually small scales can really feel nice and begin to set an instance of what’s potential. You may think about that if we’re in for a protracted financial downturn our most weak communities will really feel that first and in probably the most pronounced methods. When these shelter-in-place or social distancing restrictions are lifted, persons are going to return out in an actual large approach. Wouldn’t or not it’s nice if we harnessed a few of that to enhance what our streetscapes appear like, in a approach that provides greenery and reduces trash and simply actually improves issues?
One instance: There may be nice proof about how taking small deserted parcels of land and rejuvenating them can remodel a neighborhood. A research printed in JAMA from a few years in the past surveyed folks residing close to vacant heaps that have been cleaned up and replanted for only a actually small amount of cash. The researchers discovered a 41.5% discount in individuals who reported feeling depressed, and a 62.8% discount in poor psychological well being. That’s astounding. Small interventions can work. Folks taking initiative to make issues higher will likely be appreciated when this factor lifts.
What are another ways in which people may help?
I do suppose that there’s a lot to be stated for patronizing native companies and being intentional about that. Proper now, Amazon is doing very well, and whereas I don’t wish to speak badly about them, it’s value occupied with the native small- and medium-sized enterprises which will likely be arduous hit. And there is perhaps some revolutionary methods to assist them.
At 100 Resilient Cities, we had a extremely attention-grabbing platform associate referred to as Colu, a cryptocurrency that allows you to arrange a neighborhood digital forex as a method to reward completely different sorts of habits. It let folks get credit by collaborating in civic actions or volunteer work, after which they might spend that by means of native establishments. It was deployed in Tel Aviv. Once we’re speaking about depressed economies, that may very well be an attention-grabbing approach of kickstarting issues like civic participation, which I feel will likely be actually necessary.
It’s clearly true that extra crises await us sooner or later — however one factor that’s particularly arduous about this one is the overall lack of certainty in regards to the length. It’s arduous to think about the longer term as a result of the top of coronavirus — with all of its human, social, emotional, and financial prices — is so tough to make out. As somebody who has numerous expertise with catastrophe, do you may have any recommendation or remarks for these of us fighting the size and uncertainty of all this?
I haven’t been by means of a giant public well being emergency like this earlier than, however sure, I’d say a few issues. One, we all know there may be a tremendous bond amongst individuals who survive issues like this collectively. The sociologist Enrico Quarantelli discovered that in disasters and instantly after there’s numerous good will and neighborhood spirit. As many people are seeing now and listening to anecdotally, persons are smiling extra and serving to one another. This sense that we’ll get by means of this collectively is absolutely necessary.
I’d additionally say that, once more, I do suppose we’re going to have a tremendous alternative to remodel ourselves, our communities, and our economies with all of the stimulus that’s probably coming. However mockingly, and painfully, we is perhaps least ready to do this. In most disasters I’ve seen, which have been bodily, there’s simply not the power to suppose strategically in that approach. Too typically after a hurricane or a giant earthquake, the place communities have an actual alternative to suppose extra holistically about the best way to rebuild, they simply can’t — it’s simply human to only put issues again like they have been and never make them higher. In Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, or in Christchurch following their large earthquake, and in New Orleans after Katrina — in all of these circumstances, initially there was not the bandwidth to consider issues extra strategically till like 5 years down the road. Initially, there are simply too many individuals hurting.
In order that will likely be a giant query. Will we have now the strategic gumption to make issues higher?
That’s the $1 trillion query proper now for our leaders. So let me return to a smaller scale. How can people put together to carry their elected officers accountable to that sort of change?
After this disaster specifically, the place transmission is person-to-person and your neighbors are doubtlessly those getting you sick, it will likely be necessary to not simply retreat behind our screens and telephones. We all know that cities with the strongest and most sturdy civic networks pull by means of one of the best in catastrophe — the extra your neighbors and perceive your neighborhood boards and actually can get engaged, the stronger and extra resilient you’re.
If we will get engaged with one another, we may be extra ready for the subsequent factor that’s coming. Pondering actually deliberately about the best way to construct extra resiliency with each intervention we take goes to be important to taking this disaster and turning it into a chance. Simply because we’re centered rightly on this unimaginable factor doesn’t imply there usually are not extra crises ready for us. As a result of, look, hurricane season begins in June.