New Orleans, U.S.A. has had the unique experience of dealing with and recovering from major urban emergencies. From Hurricanes Katrina and Isaac to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill to the city’s frequent “boil-water” advisories, New Orleans has learned important lessons about what it takes to become a vibrant, resilient city that serves all its residents—particularly its most vulnerable.

One of the first cities to release a holistic resilience strategy, New Orleans developed a vision and plan for the future on topics ranging from equity to energy, from education to emergency planning.

Their strategy, Resilient New Orleans, demonstrated the truly holistic nature of urban resilience, bringing together a vision and plan for topics ranging from equity to energy, from education to emergency planning. Specifically, the strategy articulated three key goals:
 
  • Adapt to Thrive: We will embrace our changing environment instead of resisting it
  • Connect to Opportunity: We will create equal opportunities for all New Orleanians
  • Transform City Systems: We will strengthen our infrastructure to prepare for the future
Mayor Mitchell Landrieu quickly recognized that implementing this bold vision would require intense coordination across the city. To empower CRO Jeff Hebert to lead this work from the highest levels, he promoted the CRO to be First Deputy Mayor and consolidated the Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Sustainability under the Chief Administrative Office, uniting resilience planning with key existing sectors such as water management, energy, transportation, coastal protection, and climate change.

Indeed, under the leadership of Mayor Landrieu and First Deputy Mayor and CRO Hebert, the city of New Orleans is mainstreaming its resilience goals into how the city designs, budgets, and engages for all of its citizens.
 



Design

A key challenge of implementing resilience projects is that, by their very nature, they cross silos and sectors. This means that their implementation requires collaboration and buy-in from multiple agencies, which often lack a track record of cooperation or of leveraging each other’s investments. New Orleans has begun tackling this challenge by creating a Resilience Design Review Committee—an interdepartmental committee that reviews all capital projects that are meant to enhance resilience in order to ensure consistency, quality, coordination, and public transparency. These agency leaders meet once a month to review project designs (from pre-design through project development), and have already identified ways to streamline delivery and leverage single investments for additional benefit. 
 
A further sign of New Orleans’ progress toward embedding resilience thinking into urban design: the city is developing and implementing new resilience design standards for public works and infrastructure, including re-examining its design standards for its streets to incorporate storm water management, multi-modal transit, and recreational amenities (which were identified as resilience challenges in the city’s strategy) as standard design components, rather than special features as they had been treated in the past. 
 
Finally, the city updated its Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance—the regulation that governs how new development must be built—to require most new development projects to submit comprehensive landscape and storm water management plans that articulate how the design of the project will manage storm water runoff. By holding individual developments to a higher standard, the city has diffused the responsibility for managing water risk and achieved a more inclusive and widespread water management solution than would have been possible through a single, top-down infrastructure solution. Additional benefits of such parcel-level efforts to manage storm water include reducing the urban heat island effect, decreasing the incidence and severity of flooding, reducing strains on the drainage and pumping system, improving water conservation, and protecting public health, safety, and welfare. 
 
Essentially, the institutionalization of resilience-building practices is helping New Orleans transform their public regulations and design in such a way that they will be much better equipped to meet their resilience challenges.
 

Budgeting

As New Orleans’ CRO Hebert assumes the role of Deputy Mayor and Chief Administrative Officer, one of his key priorities is integrating a resilience lens into the public budgeting process, in order to advance the goals of the 2015 strategy. Toward that end, New Orleans recently adopted a policy of embedding resilience outcomes – specifically, the pursuit of multiple long-term benefits, cross-departmental collaboration, and advancing the specific goals of Resilient New Orleans – within the city’s budgeting process. 
 
The city’s resilience priorities, as outlined in the strategy, have been incorporated into the city’s Strategic Framework, which serves as the foundation of the annual public budgeting process. By integrating strategic resilience-building principles across city functions, it begins to encourage city departments to consider the following questions when submitting budget requests: 
 
General Questions
  • How does this offer create long-term benefits (25+ years) in addition to achieving the annual performance targets listed?
  • How does this offer pursue outcomes in multiple result areas?
  • How does this offer leverage other departmental offers or existing programs/projects to create collaborative opportunities and cross-departmental efficiencies?
Goal-Specific Questions
  • Adapt to Thrive: How does this offer contribute to reduced risk, awareness, or responsible management of our local environmental conditions?
  • Connect to Opportunity: How does this offer support the advancement of equitable economic, social, and health opportunities and outcomes for historically underserved populations?
  • Transform City Systems: How does this offer contribute to organizational or infrastructural preparedness, operational efficiency, and adaptive capacity? 
This budgeting policy represents a significant step towards institutionalizing resilience, by connecting the normal operations of city government agencies and departments to the pillars of Resilient New Orleans.


Engagement

Finally, the city is focused on educating and advancing understanding of resilience principles at the local, regional and state level. To enhance inclusive outreach locally, the resilience team has added a dedicated outreach manager to act as a community liaison for building further awareness and getting feedback on resilience projects. For regional efforts, the city launched the region’s first Regional Resilience Committee, which brings together representatives from neighboring jurisdictions and agencies to discuss resilience priorities, including environmental protection, storm readiness, and transportation. And finally, the CRO was recently appointed to the Governor’s Coastal Advisory Board to continue advocating for urban water resilience at the state level. 
 

Flagship Project Institutionalizing Resilience

A few months after the launch of Resilient New Orleans, the city was awarded more than US$141 million from the National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC), a federal competition to fund holistic resilience projects. Many of the NDRC-funded projects are already being implemented, and this work will continue for a number of years, led by the CRO. 
 
One such project that embodies the strategy’s approach to building resilience is the Gentilly Resilience District, a consolidated effort to reduce flood risk, slow land subsidence and encourage neighborhood revitalization. This, the city’s first-ever Resilience District, combines various approaches to water and land management that have been successfully pioneered throughout New Orleans and, implemented together, will create even greater neighborhood benefits.            
     
The Gentilly Resilience District will pursue five distinct strategies:
 
  • Community Adaptation

    Engaging local residents about on-site water storage and use and subsidizing small-scale investments in storm water management and home elevation for low- and moderate-income homeowners
  • Workforce Development

    Training underemployed individuals to build and maintain Gentilly Resilience District projects
  • Reliable Energy & Smart Systems 

    Investing in micro-grids, energy redundancy at critical infrastructure sites, and a water-monitoring network to better manage subsidence and water quality with comprehensive data
  • Urban Water Infrastructure 

    Building parks, green streets and other green infrastructure that can accommodate excess water and complement the city’s system of pipes, pumps, and levees
  • ResilienceSTAT

    Creating a transparent efficiency metric tracker to demonstrate to the public that the project is (1) being completed on time and (2) seeing results
The Gentilly Resilience District embodies the city’s approach to institutionalizing resilience thinking into the design, planning, and budgeting of the city. In order to address complex issues like crumbling streets and the overtaxed drainage systems and sinking soils that cause them, a suite of tactics is needed to deliver comprehensive benefits. 
 
The projects of the Gentilly Resilience District will therefore take place in streets, parks, schoolyards, open lots, and even local homes. The projects are designed to reduce flood risk and subsidence, by creating spaces in the urban landscape to capture rainwater. The projects are moreover designed to beautify neighborhoods, improve health, and provide opportunities for recreation. The city will be able to accomplish its goal of adapting to thrive when all of the elements of a neighborhood are working together to reduce risk and enhance development potential.
 

Key Best Practices Learned from Institutionalization Efforts
 

  • Ensure the Chief Resilience Officer has a senior position in the city, and is empowered to work across the silos of municipal government.
  • Develop a multidisciplinary resilience team for strategy development and implementation.
  • Rethink and reimagine the city’s existing regulatory powers (planning, taxing, design, etc.) to deliver greater resilience value for the city.
  • Authorize and mandate interdisciplinary committees and partnerships with a broad range of experience and expertise to ensure that city investments strategically achieve multiple benefits and pursue a resilience dividend.
  • Coordinate closely with state and national governments in order to maximize input and funding, and to leverage other investments.
  • Leverage opportunities to pilot new solutions at the neighborhood scale.  

 

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