As I write this, I am sitting in the ballroom of the University of the District of Columbia, at the end of a series of speeches about urban resiliency. So far today, I have heard talks from Mayor Bowser, City Administrator Young, and the directors of the DC Departments of Emergency Management, Health, Planning, and Energy and Environment. I’ve also heard speakers from Mexico City and London, and participated in breakout sessions meant to guide our thinking about the meaning of urban resiliency, threats to it, and possible solutions. It is all powered by the selection of DC as one of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 global Resilient Cities. 

Urban resiliency has a broad definition here. The meeting organizers gave us a chart with more than 50 different approaches to the concept, including providing universal access to a good education, mitigating the effects of climate change, addressing economic inequality, preventing political corruption, managing emergencies, maintaining infrastructure, promoting health equity, and literally dozens more. It’s hard to avoid the thought that urban resiliency can mean almost anything. But if there’s any core idea, it is that for a city to be resilient, it must be able to deal effectively with both long-term systemic challenges and emergencies.

As I often do, I’m thinking about the Anacostia River Corridor.  

When we voted earlier today on the most important elements of urban resiliency in DC, the two systemic challenges that got the most votes were 1) disparities among residents in education, employment opportunities, and health; and 2) dealing with flooding and other effects of climate change. According to this thinking, if we are to be a resilient city, we have to find ways to lessen disparities and prevent or at least minimize flood damage. 

The Trust has developed a program called “RainPay” that attempts to do just that. It lessens the pollution and erosion effects of street and rooftop runoff by making the ground absorb more, and it gets an income stream into nonprofits in low-income communities. If we can get the program to scale, we are going to employ people, too, to operate and maintain the installations.  It’s all paid for with a small portion of the profits from development under the District’s creative Stormwater Retention Credit regulations.

So we’re cleaning up our dirty urban river and promoting resiliency in two ways at the same time. That seems good.  Maybe the other 99 global resilient cities can learn something from us. 

Find out more at

Rainpay.org 

Rain gardens like this help keep toxic runoff from parking lots from entering the river system. Mount Rainier Maryland, Washington DC metro area. USA. August 2013
Rain gardens like this help keep toxic runoff from parking lots from entering the river system. Mount Rainier Maryland, Washington DC metro area. USA. August 2013