Resilient Cities with Michael Berkowitz

Oct 12
Today, we are delighted to have as our guest Michael Berkowitz. Michael is the founding principal of Resilient Cities Catalyst, a new global nonprofit helping cities and their partners tackle their toughest challenges. He’s a world-leading expert on making cities resilient to everything from natural disasters to terrorism. Previous roles include Founding President of the 100 Resilient Cities, which as Rockefeller Foundation project which he led from August 2013 until 2019. Other various roles include Deutsche Bank, their Global Head of Operations Risk Management. He also led the efforts addressing the 2009 flu pandemic at Deutsche Bank, and he was the Deputy Commissioner at the Office of Emergency Management in New York City. Unsurprisingly, NYC has called him back for support this week, following hurricane Ida. 
Talking resilient cities with Michael Berkowitz.

Podcast Transcript

Announcer:        Does humanity really face civilizational collapse? Why do so many scientists think we can’t make the changes fast enough to secure a brighter future, that it is already too late? In this series of podcasts, we speak with scientists, researchers, entrepreneurs, and policy makers to ask questions about the risks we face over the next 100 years.  

Marek:                 Welcome to this series of podcasts. This series discusses the risks facing humanity over the next 100 years. We have leading researchers, policy makers and entrepreneurs. Together we seek to analyze the risks from a 4Ways perspective. You can find out more about us on Today, we are delighted to have as our guest Michael Berkowitz. Michael is the founding principal of Resilient Cities Catalyst, a new global nonprofit helping cities and their partners tackle their toughest challenges. He’s a world-leading expert on making cities resilient to everything from natural disasters to terrorism.

Previous roles include Founding President of the 100 Resilient Cities, which as Rockefeller Foundation project which he led from August 2013 until 2019. Other various roles include Deutsche Bank, their Global Head of Operations Risk Management. He also led the efforts addressing the 2009 flu pandemic at Deutsche Bank, and he was the Deputy Commissioner at the Office of Emergency Management in New York City. Unsurprisingly, NYC has called him back for support this week, following hurricane Ida. We definitely have a couple of questions on that. You can follow him on ‘berkmic’, on Twitter, that is. Thank you very much for joining us. I hope I got all that right.  

Michael:              You did. That was maybe the best distillation of what’s a kind of rambling bio, so nicely done.  

Marek:                 Thanks again for joining us. There are lots of questions I’d like to ask. First of all, if you’d just like to say a little bit about what you’ve been doing this week, bring it to the here and now, what just happened in NYC, and especially considering that you worked on preparing for exactly these kinds of events for so many years. Has it changed? Was a lot of what you’ve one seen as benefitting what’s happening this week?  

Michael:              Yes. From time to time, through a really ingenious alumni program, I’m called back to support the NYC Office of Emergency Management. It’s one of the really interesting things that they’ve done since I left in early 2005, which was to understand that they needed to quickly grow their organization, and put together a list, a contracting procedure, and all of the logistics behind hiring up quickly. They put together a program where they could quickly expand during times of crisis, and they activated that during the beginning of COVID in early 2020, and now again for hurricane Ida and the flooding that resulted. In terms of Ida, I think the thing that’s interesting is that rainfall flooding is very hard to predict. We have a good sense over a wider geography of how much rainfall we’re gonna get, but really, the very specific neighborhood dynamics are much harder to forecast. And you could have an area that gets a lot of rain, 3-4 inches of rain in very short period of time, where only a mile or half a mile away is a totally different situation. And so, that’s one thing.

The other thing is to say, unlike coastal flooding, how localized the dynamics are in terms of storm drains, catch basins, where the garbage is, what’s cleared, what’s not cleared, how that performs, and then overlay that into what the built environment looks like, and where people are living. So, people are living in lots of basements, legal or illegal. They are likely to get more impacted. So, layer all those things together, and I think that’s what happened during Ida.  

Marek:                 Do you see some of the projects that you were working on before really bring some positive results in the recent week?   

Michael:              I think it’s too early to say, in many ways. The resilience work that we did with NYC – I was in emergency management a long time ago. I left in January 2005. In many ways, hat work has been updated and redone, and undone, and all of those things that happened over that 16-year period of time. But, the resilience work that we did was try to foster capacities at the neighborhood level, so that communities came together in times of crisis. 
And I think, with the volunteers and the community-based organizations that you see out on the streets in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Queens, and to some degree in the Bronx, I think all of that is a testament to that kind of strategic work, and those are some of the hallmarks of resilience.  

Marek:                 Understood. Just one last question I’d like to ask about your biography: what are some of the reasons that Rockefeller Foundation specifically wanted to work with you on setting up the 100 Resilient Cities? It’s almost as if it was it was all created specific to you. Could you talk a little bit more about that?  

Michael:              The former president of Rockefeller Foundation, a woman name Dr. Judith Rodin, she was very interested in resilience. She can obviously tell this story better than I can, but it stems at least from her term as the president of the University of Pennsylvania, where she inherited an Ivy League school that sits in the middle of a very distressed neighborhood in Philadelphia. So, she started to understand the dynamics of how distressed neighborhoods function and where they could be improved.

Then, she gets to Rockefeller, and you have superstorm Sandy, and she served on the governor’s Sandy Commission, and started to really understand the overlap between those things, and she really understood that it was a broad group of partnerships and organizations that made communities more or less resilient. And at that same time, I was living in Singapore, and ultimately in London, and when she would come through on her travels, we would have a coffee or lunch or something like that, and started to talk about that.

I think what she was very interested in with me, in terms of starting 100 Resilient Cities, was that she wanted 100RC to be a practitioner program. If you look at what 100RC did, we helped cities hire chief resilience officers and helped them do strategy. She wanted to be very practitioner-focused, and she also wanted it to be very interdisciplinary. And the fact that I had worked in government and then gone to the private sector in Deutsche Bank where, as you mentioned, I had a number of roles, including Global Head of Operational Risk – that intersection, I think, was appealing to her, in terms of not wanting to work in one side over the other, but rather crowd in a bunch of different disciplines.

So, if I can talk for her, I think that’s why she was excited to have me. And for me, 100RC is a dream role. Very rarely do you get an offer to come and do this really amazing, super-important thing, and just have so many resource dedicated to it. It was fantastic.  

Marek:                 Thank you for that. I think that really helps understand also her thinking as well, behind 100RC. Okay. If we jump into the main part of the podcast, the first question that we always ask is about how you see the next 100 years unfolding. When we talk about the next 100 years, we’re not talking about what things will look like in 2120. That’s not the idea. The idea is to understand what long-term trends are going to become ever more apparent over the next coming years and decades, and specifically from a resilience perspective, what are the risks that we should be aware of considering? What should urban leaders be thinking about? How well do you expect cities to be able to answer those risks?  

Michael:              So, the large trends I think that we can safely say will continue at least for the first part of those 100 years- and to be honest, I’m not a futurist, I haven’t spent a lot of time long over 100 years, but for sure, resilience is about being forward-looking. So, I have certainly thought about the first part of that. I think you’ll see the trends of urbanization, globalization. Climate change, the 4th industrial revolution, the changing nature of work. I think those are 4 clear trends that we see today, and there’s no reason to think that they’re not gonna happen.                                

So, urbanization – even though there’s been a lot made, particularly in the West, about how the pandemic has slowed urbanization, wealthy people are moving out of the cities, there’s no reason to think that minor trend, that minor blip, is going to continue over the next 50 or 100 years. We have over 50% of the world’s population in cities now, and we’ll have over 70% of the world’s population in cities by 2050, by the middle of the century. And a majority of them are gonna live in informal developments, so slums and other informal settlements. That is pretty clear. A lot of that urbanization is happening now in Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia. That’s where this trend is most apparent. And you could say that, for this reason, in many ways the future of the world is in African cities. That’s a big hotspot, where we have a real opportunity to get it right, but also serious risks to get it wrong.                                

The second is globalization. I think, as we have come to understand with the pandemic, and certainly even before, we are now more connected than ever. Even with nationalism happening in lots of places around the world, and retrenchment of national borders, and “America first” and all this nonsense, that’s a reaction to something that is a much larger trend, and that is the global connectivity of people, services, goods, risks like the pandemic or climate, or migration, all of those things.                                

Third is climate change. Every time we get a new dump of climate data, it looks worse. That is going to be a big issue, and how that impacts different areas- just now, we’ve see a big dump of US climate data. The Eastern US is much wetter, and Western US is much drier. And I think it’s hard to know with climate change, other than sea level rise, what some of the other impacts are gonna be, but that is going to be a significant long term trend, as we know.

And then, the changing nature of work. I think what COVID did was expedite what was already happening. So, I think ability to work a little bit more remotely, and certainly AI and machine technology, and all of hat, and how we make, consume and produce goods. I think that’s another large trend. And cities are thinking about it in the context of resilience. Rotterdam, one of the 100RC, as everything in the Netherlands, is very exposed to climate change, but also equally worried about the 4th industrial revolution. Because Rotterdam’s one of the world’s largest ports, it depends on us producing goods in China, and shipping them to the West. When that pattern changes because of 3D printing and the way we design, produce and consume goods, that’s gonna have significant existential ramifications for port cities like Norfolk, Virginia, Rotterdam and others. And so, I think that’s also another long-term trend. So, those would be the four big trends.  

Marek:                 When you have these massive cities emerging, particularly in Africa – I think that projections are saying that by the end of the century, if not sooner, the top 3 cities in the world will be African: Lagos, Dar es Salaam, and I think Kinshasa is the third. So, these will be the world’s largest cities. If you also connect the fact that climate change may be putting countries in Africa in particular stress, although different models show different impacts all over the place, how well do you think these cities, from what you’ve already seen, not only understand these challenges, but are preparing for them? Is there a general strategy they’re approaching it with, or is it very patchwork of different approaches, limited to how long a particular leader at a city or municipal level is in power?  

Michael:              I think it’s more the latter than the former. There are efforts – Lagos was one of the 100RC. Lagos is projected to be the world’s first 100 million-person city. Of course, that’s 100…  

Alexander:         I do believe this. Could you imagine this 100 million-person city?   

Michael:              I mean, I don’t know if it’s gonna get there, but it will get close. We can see that it’s going in that direction. And when we say 100 million-person city, what we really mean is 100 million-person urban extent. Lagos is run by a state government. It’s a governor who is the chief executive there. But even that, really, what that 100 million-person estimation is, is Lagos growing so much that it connects a couple of other outlying cities that are not connected right now. And so, that whole extent will be that 100 million-person extent. So, there are lots of challenges there, in terms of governance, in terms of planning. Many cities around African ad parts of Asia are growing so fast that it’s really hard to do the planning around. And it’s hard to get out in front of funding and all of those other issues.

Yeah. I think what you touched on, governance and patchwork, and being able to project ahead, and having follow-though and some continuity between none administration and the next administration, so that you can do some longer-term strategic things, all that are the major challenges that are facing this part of the world. If it were easy, we would have already solved it. And we haven’t. So, those are the issues.

To give you an example of where it has been solved, is if you look at Singapore. Not a democracy, as you know, but a benevolent kind of authoritarian regime. But, because of that, they published a strategic plan 50 years ago, they updated their strategic plan every five years, and they’ve been able to go from- I have friends in Singapore who grew up in the Singapore River, which is now gleaming, beautiful, clear, feeds into a reservoir and has lots of interesting development alongside it. When my older friends who grew in in Singapore grew up there, it was not uncommon to see a pig carcass or some trash floating down the Singapore River.  

Marek:             Is that where they have the park now…?  

Michael:              Clark Quay, which is this fantastic- it has some roller coaster rides, and lots of different shiny restaurants. Which in some ways can feel fabricated and off-putting for those of us who grew up in a more organic city, but it still speaks to how, with a vision and continuity, you can change the development trajectory. I mean, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore 50 years ago were on the same development trajectory, and now they’re different.

And there are lots of other things. It’s more than just Clark Quay and the development along the river that’s interesting. Singapore has a goal- because water risks are one of the key risks in Singapore, because it’s a small island country – it has a goal of capturing 100% of rain water that falls on Singapore at any one time. And it’s close to meeting that goal. It almost doubled it’s population over the last 25 years, but increased it’s green space by 75%. If you think about the buildings in Singapore, there are all these incentives for developers if you build in green space. You get green walls, aerial plazas, green roves, all those things that help capture water, bring down urban heat, and make the place more pleasant – all these different interventions.

I’m not arguing that we all need to be authoritarian, one-party regimes, and there are certain things that make the Singapore experience where that can happen- because in Singapore, it’s so small, you can leave the island. If you don’t like the way the government is doing it, you can leave. So, there’s a different kind of voting. It’s not ballot box, it’s voting with your feet. So, that’s kept this whole thing in check, and hasn’t let it get out of hand.  

Marek:                 You’ve already answered my question which was about a good example.  

Alexander:         Can you describe a little bit the difference? Every government has an emergency ministry or something like this, and these teams for [inaudible]. What’s the difference between a resilience officer and the emergency ministry?   

Michael:              The emergency ministry is largely interested in responding after the disaster, or as the disaster is happening. It does planning beforehand, but it’s usually about coordinating the different departments as they respond to a flood, a fire, or a terrorist attack. Resilience is about understanding that certain capacities in communities’ make them better able to handle uncertainty and disaster.

So, those are things like community cohesion, where neighbors check on neighbors, it’s things like diverse middle class economies that are equitable, it’s things like good multi-use infrastructure, things like good governance with multiple stakeholders at the table. All of those things help communities survive and thrive in the face of disaster. And what the chief resilience officer tries to do is to make sure that through every decision that the city, or state or community makes, they are thinking intentionally about increasing the value of those capacities.

When I do a housing program, how can I think about increasing the resilience capacities? How to I make sure that this enhances equity? Because we know that equitable communities are more resilient than inequitable communities. When we do an entrepreneurship challenge for innovators, how do we ensure that that increases equity and also enhances our ability to deal with climate challenges? Or, when we think about building roads, how do we ensure that those roads don’t split our communities in half, but rather serve in ways that bring our communities together, and enhance that? That’s the difference. The chief resilience officer is thinking more strategically, and the emergency manager is thinking more tactically.

I’ll give you one last example. In London, they don’t call them chief resilience officers. The UK uses resilience more in the emergency management. The London Resilience Committee is basically an emergency office. But, London does the things that I was describing under a different guise. So, when London hosted the Olympics in 2012, that necessitated a lot of different development. And what London did as part of that was to say how, as we do all this Olympic development in the east end in particular, can we serve our other goals? They saw long-term trends of more and more people moving to London, and they saw climate, and they asked how they can increase housing, public parks and recreation space, address climate change, flooding, heat, all those issues together. And what was left was a legacy of parks for a part of London that was traditionally poor and underserved. And so, that’s what a chief resilience officer would be meant to do.  

Alexander:         Yeah, and I have 100’s of questions about climate change, but one is the most important. We know that sea levels are rising, and there are a lot of cities that are coastal. So, that means that in 50, 70, 80 years from now, they will have a real problem. They will get flooded, they will go down. And what does that mean? That people need to be ready to sell this property because someday they can’t sell the property because there is no property anymore? When you understand that this problem so coming and you are living now, how do you need to react?  

Michael:              I think there are two strategies. One is to build better protection, and better infrastructure. One of the things that we did post hurricane Sandy in NYC is work with some designers through a program called Rebuild By Design. This was a Rockefeller-sponsored program with the US Federal Government. We came up with some innovative ways to approach sea level rise and storm surge in lower Manhattan, possibly the most valuable property in the world. And instead of building sea walls, they designed green infrastructure that’s elevated and can provide some of that protection. Will it provide it 100, 150 years? I don’t know. Some of it depends on what scenario, but it provides a lot of elevation. It provides protection for a long time, but what it also does is, it enhances biodiversity and park space, and recreational areas and cultural areas, and when it’s done, it connects some of the poorest communities on the lower east side to the river and the park system in a way that they have never been.

So that’s one thing. All over the world, cities should be thinking about how they can build better infrastructure and protection. That’s point one. Point two is that you’re absolutely right, that even with the best protection, and cool infrastructure and all that stuff, there are certain properties that will not be habitable in 100 years. So, we need to start to have those conversations, and either take our opportunities when we’re impacted by disasters now- because you use in southern Louisiana, in parts of NYC, in Jakarta, Indonesia, which is considering a large movement of people in the city – when we have disasters now, don’t keep building back to the same place, but have a plan to relocate. And that will help spread the pain a little bit more. It’s not the individual land owner property owner, but it’s a little bit more of a societal question. And we need to have that conversation about what that means. In the US, we call that managed retreat.

So, I think those are the two things that we have to do now. Managed retreat is a conversation that is not widely had in the US and around the world, and part of the reason for that is because it’s a very touchy subject. If you are a property owner, the value of your house depends on it being there. So, you do not wanna have that conversation about it not being there. Even if it’s in your long-term interest. So, that makes it really hard. This is a tangent, so bear with me for a second. These interventions where we tell people what the risks are, they don’t always- it’s not obvious that they work as a deterrent. And I’ll give you another example.

In the 90’s, I was a reporter working on something called emergency preparedness news. And at that time, the US Environmental Protection Agency published some regulations for chemical plants, and this was the Bhopal India accident. It killed a bunch of people. It was cyanide. And particularly in West Virginia, we had plants that made that, and they were sitting in very deep valleys that would make chemical accidents very dangerous for the people down land. The chemical had nowhere to go. It was in this river valley. The EPA published these risk management rules that didn’t prevent plants from making that. What it said is that you had to disclose that to the community. And you had to disclose the worst-case scenario to the community, the failure of the main vessel, and also the next level. And people didn’t’ wanna hear it, because their jobs, their livelihoods, their property values all depended on that chemical plant there. I haven’t looked at it in a while, but it would be interesting to see if that actually have the desired effect.

It was heralded as this new kind of regulation. We don’t tell the chemical companies what they have to do, we’re gonna let the community regulate them though open information. And I don’t think that worked well.  

Alexander:         I have a question regarding climate change. People like to have the exact calculations of these strategies, and according to one of the calculations, we will see around 300 million people who will need to move from their lands - coastal cities, islands and so forth – somewhere. And when I’m thinking about these people, how to place them, how to build 30 New Yorks for them – how do you imagine this?  

Michael:              I think the world’s mayors are one interesting group that can help figure that out, because often, those people go from one city to another city. It won’t be new green field cities necessarily. They’ll be going from big cities on the coast, to smaller cities…  

Alexander:         From Syria to Turkey, from Afghanistan to Pakistan, From Indonesia to India…

Michael:              I don’t have any big solutions, but I know there are lots of mayors- a friend of mine runs something called the Mayors Migration Council that are thinking about how to better resettle refugees as they come. And those 300 million are not gonna come in one day. They’re gonna come over the course of a decade. Again, that goes back to- Marek asked me about the larger trends. That’s globalization. Just as you said, Alexander, people are gonna move across borders, and we have to be ready for that. In many ways, we see it as a liability right now, but individual-receiving cities, we should see that as a resource. It’s an incredible injection of talent, energy and diversity, and if you treat it that way, that can be a very positive situation.

I agree. The long-term trend is that the coasts are gonna be unlivable, and we have most of our cities on the coasts or in river deltas, because of the nature of how we did commerce and production manufacturing over the last 100 years. So, this is big challenge.  

Alexander:         And because we see the world through the prism of a 4 Wave concept, let’s jump to the third and the fourth Wave countries, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. This is a place with a huge difference between the western countries or developed countries, and this world with 3 billion people now, and the demographic boom, and very huge growth of cities and urbanization. 4 billion new urban dwellers will happen here, in this region. And when you think that the countries will jump from a population of 30 million to 200 million, you can understand how to manage this process- and it will happen in 50 years, not in 200 years. Do you see the difference in the urbanization and this economic growth in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, compared to Europe and North America?  

Michael:              Yes. I agree that the urbanization, as we get from 50% to 75% of the world’s population just in the next 30 years, is in those regions that you mentioned, mostly in Africa, South Asia and to some degree in Southeast Asia. That’s very clear. That’s a mid-term trend. We probably wouldn’t even call it a long-term trend.  

Alexander:         And what I’ve heard from some [inaudible], they told me that they’re working on different projects, and they’re planning the cities from scratch. So, we think that the existing cities will extend- no, they’re planning cities from scratch, like China built. 100% new cities, 10 years, and 100 million people becoming urban dwellers. It’s a huge process.  

Michael:              Yeah. I’m most aware of that – not to say that‘s not happening elsewhere – but I’m n=most aware of that in India, where there is currently fairly robust work underway on something called the Delhi-Mumbai corridor. So, thinking about high-speed rail connecting Delhi and Mumbai, and a bunch of cities, green field cities along that corridor, to account for India’s rapid urbanization. So, I think that is certainly something.

Now, India is middle income, has a lot of capacity, has more engineers and MBAs than the United States has people. It has a massive and talented middle class.  

Alexander:         The population of India in this century- so, in the last 20 years, increased by 300 million.   Michael:              And it’s urbanizing. India is a good example to describe what we’ve been talking about. You have very high levels of inequity in India. That’s one big challenge. This question of governance that we spoke of earlier with Marek, this is a big challenge in India. So, the national government- the state is probably the most important player, and then the municipal governments are relatively weaker, and that’s led to some very…  

Alexander:         Like in China.   

Michael:              Yeah. China is, I would say, more connected, from the national to the state to the city, and city mayors in China, if they operate within the construct of the agreed set of priorities and KPIs, the city mayors are actually empowered to experiment and have a little bit more control in general than many city mayors in India. So, that’s why you see a lot of interesting innovations in China – the sponge city, really looking at how rainwater can- we can use ground water and the absorption capacities of our green spaces to reduce flood risk, that many Chinese cities have a lot of. That came out of China. It was a collaboration with foreign architects, designers and so on, but ultimately it was Chinese officials, and I think spurred in some degree by local mayors that actually implemented that. 

In India, you have a city like Bangalore- the other thing is, India is democratic, which is wonderful, but hat also leads to some of this choppiness in terms of long-term policy and connectivity between these different levels of government. So, in Bangalore, for a long time the city was BJP – it’s a center-right party, it’s the party of Modi, although he’s on the right fringe of the party. And the state, Karnataka, was Congress, the old party of Gandhi, and a more left-center, although a lot of people would argue that Congress is tired and a little bit corrupt at this point, and so that’s why they’ve been getting pushed out.

And Karnataka, even though Bangalore is one of the world’s largest cities, and it’s been growing crazy, it’s the center of international industry and commerce in terms of outsourcing, call centers and all those things – Karnataka, the state, is still largely rural. It’s state of villagers and farmers. And so, the state minister, he didn’t care as much about Bangalore. That wasn’t his base. He wasn’t interested in the state of Karnataka. So, Bangalore grew in this awful, haphazard crazy way, from a nice, small, what everyone describe as a pleasant army town, hill station, to the sprawling megalopolis with large slums and lots of wealth, and everything in between.

And so, one way to think about your question- we’ve gotta get the governance right, so that Karnataka and Bangalore are more aligned, so that they can do some strategic things to make those cities more livable, sustainable, and ultimately resilient for people who live there. If we don’t figure that out, this is why we’re getting this sort of haphazard urbanization. There are lots of resources out there, but we just don’t have a great track record of deploying them in the right ways, and to the right efforts.  

Alexander:         Okay. This very fast, raid economic growth, demographic boom, urbanization boom, industrialization boom in these countries – I'm trying to explain to people who believe that we can hit zero emissions in the next 20-30 years. And I’m explaining to them that 4 billion new urban dwellers and industrialized and energized countries are here, and they can’t wait for hydrogen clean technologies, renewable clean technologies, batteries. Right now they are using what they can use for melting steel, for paving roads, building cities and so forth. And cities are the center of greenhouse emissions, of course, because all the cars are here, all the materials produced for building infrastructure and so forth. Is it true that in these countries from what you know through the prism of resilience, that these countries will bring us alto of headaches from using greenhouse cases and using old technology, or can they jump to the post-industrial era without coal, and without all this crisis?  

Michael:              Probably, the answer there is that it’s mixed. There will be some leapfrogging, no question about it. And you saw that with the wireless revolution. There are plenty of places that never got wired at all. They just went right from no telecommunications to wireless. And there may be also some places where, especially as the cost of renewables and sustainable energy comes down, that you don’t build coal, that it’s actually cheaper and easier to build solar or wind, because it’s distributed in different ways, and your investment in the infrastructure is less, so you can do that.

At the same, you're absolutely right, Alexander, that there’s a lot of- people are living now, they have real needs now. They wanna have the lights on, and cold storage, and all those things that make modern wealthy societies, and they want them now. And so, I think that’s gonna be a very mixed story. The reason I’m optimistic is that the right kind of density can be a very powerful thing. Our cities have a lot of cars right now, but they shouldn’t. We should design better cities that are more walkable, and bikeable, and have good public transit, and are safe.  

Alexander:         Do you believe in a Lagos with 100 million population biking, and swimming? How do you manage this clean infrastructure for 100 million people?  

Michael:              I was in Lagos 4 years ago, and I toured a metro that was almost ready to open. I had to move the turnstiles, and I went up the stairs, I stood on the platform – there was still Chinese writing on the different construction parts. If anyone form Lagos is listening they should write us and confirm, but I don’t think that metro is open yet today. It hit some hurdle right at the end, and it hasn’t even opened yet. Yes, big infrastructure projects are hard, and they need consistency all the way through, and you need continued attention to it. It’s possible, but it’s gonna be very challenging.  

Alexander:         My last question is regarding Sub-Saharan Africa. 10 years ago, when I worked at the sixth-largest electricity company in the world, I didn’t know anything about Africa, Asia, China, Indian, anything. So, I was 50 years old and illiterate. Now, I see that this is a problem- there is a cognitive dissonance when I am talking to people about the next 50 or 80 years, and the development of sub-Saharan Africa, and I’m saying: “In the next 80 years, this continent will jump from 1 billion to 4 billion, and most of these 4 billion will be urban dwellers, and most of them will come from an economy with 1000 GDP per capita to 20,000 GDP per capita, and most of them will get cars.”

And people say: “No, it’s impossible. Their climate is- Africa is a place where people can’t build the same infrastructure and the same societies that we know from North America, Europe and even Asia, because the climate is horrible. It’s very hot. People are lazy.” A lot of arguments. They say that Africa will never be like Asia today. What do you think about Africa, and the speed of this progress? Is it possible that they will do the same as Asian countries did for the last 60 years?  

Michael:              I think it’s possible. And to be perfectly honest, I also think that Africans have a right to have a trajectory into the middle class as Asian countries did, as we did. And let’s acknowledge that that trajectory is important. Having said that, our urbanization, and to many degrees Asian countries’ urbanization is a mixed story. Our cities are choked with cars, people die of asthma and respiratory diseases. We got fat, and we have pulmonary disease and all those other things. Let’s not hold us up as a model. Let’s think about what the new model is.

What’s really interesting – you know this movie, Black Panther? With Chadwick Boseman? If you look at that city, that mystical African city, Wakanda, it’s powered by renewable power, you don’t see any cars on the streets. Let’s hope that we can build 30 Wakandas, and do it better, because our urbanization model is terrible. It’s not terrible, it’s mixed. So, let’s acknowledge that Africans need to become middle class too, and be participants in the world economy as they deserve. But, at the same time, let’s not to United States- style urbanization, because our cities leave a lot to be desired.

We’re out of time, and I know, Ainar, that you have some questions to ask. Come back and pick up?  

Marek:                 Rather than come back, what I’d just like to ask- maybe we don’t have time for Ainar’s questions, but what I would just like to have is – could you just connect a couple of the dots which have been floating around? Just give us 2-3 minutes. Particularly about governance. You’ve talked about the importance of local communities, an example where people are almost not interested in their own health because of the economic risks etc. They don’t take action of moving away from that chemical plant, or perhaps moving for it to be closed. You’ve got examples of Singapore as a one-party state, and China doing certain things better than India, but you come from New York, which is a very different way of governance, which is obviously doing great things. Could you try and connect those dots a little more? Maybe a bit more clarity on what your idea is of what governments should be in order to make cities more resilient.   

Michael:              I think where all of those examples connect is – the best things come out of us working in integrated and inclusive ways. And actually, maybe we should expand that. Resilience building is about inclusive action, integrated action, forward-looking but risk-aware action. So, those are the three big pillars. Integrated means that we think about all of the various aspects of particular interventions, and try to connect those in a project. So, the idea of the Singapore action, or the sponge city, or any other action we talked about, is that you don’t just think about it in terms of one outcome. You think about all the different outcomes. Singapore increasing its greenery had impacts on flooding and water retention. It reduces the urban heat islands. It is an economic development tool that the Singapore people have used to lure foreign investment, because it’s this garden city. And we know that kids learn better, have better cognition when they are connected to greenery, as opposed to just a concrete jungle. All of those things- there’s a wonderful book called The Nature Fix that’s all about the benefits of greenery. So, that’s a good example of integrated action.

The other is inclusive. How do we involve people in making the city? The better we involve people… the program I talked about, the Big U and Rebuild By Design, and Lower Manhattan, that was a design that was spearheaded by a very famous architect, Bjarke Ingels. It involved very intentional community engagement over the course of a year. It was: “What do you think should happen here?” and the designers go away and say: “This is what we heard?” And then back and forth, and really trying to intentionally garner and develop community input and trust. And that will hopefully serve the community in times of crisis, regardless of what the crisis is. Those are the kinds of things where I would look to see.

The last apart is forward-looking and risk-aware. I think you guys are really leading on some of this. We need risk management and risk data to tell us what we should be planning for, for sure. But, we know that in the 21st century the old-style risk management doesn’t work anymore. We need to be forward-looking and reimagine that. And coming back to that Big U example, that’s what this is about, trying to think ahead and say: “Yes, lower Manhattan is fine. Its gotten some flooding every now and then from a rare coastal storm.” But, it’s saying: “This is not going to be a very good predictor of what happens in the 21st century.” We’re gonna get a lot more of that, and they’re gonna get bigger. The sea level is gonna get higher, so we’ll push it further inland, and we need to take that into account.

So, again – integrated, not just thinking about transportation solutions, or economic development solutions, or housing solutions, but thinking about them together. Inclusive – how do we include everybody? There’s an equity component in that too. I think that’s really important. And then, forward-looking and risk-aware – all those things are what makes cities more livable, sustainable, and ultimately resilient.  

Ainar:                    Thank you, Michael. As we discussed, I’ve come up with a few questions. You mentioned your history of working in 100RC. My question is, if we collect all the population of all these cities, and they end up together, how many people will be there?  

Michael:              Again, it depends a little bit on whether we’re talking about the formal city, the administrative boundary that the mayor controls, or about the urban extent, the metropolitan region, the urban extent that is larger? I think those 100 cities, in the urban extent, represent 3 quarters of a billion people. But, as a formal metropolitan region, much less than that.   

Ainar:                    How many people will be there in 2050?   

Michael:              I mean, more than that, I think. It’s worth it just to say how we chose those cities. We chose them because we wanted to inspire a new way of working in cities.   

Alexander:         And in the countries. You have one city per country, or maybe a couple.   Michael:              Yeah. So, what we did was, we looked for diversity across regions, across scales. We looked for big cities like Lagos, and Paris, and New York, and small cities like- there’s a small Danish city called [inaudible], or a small US city called Tulsa, or Boulder. And across hazards – so, cities that were on the coast, cities that were in the interior, cities that were on rivers, because we knew that cities would be inspired by other cities that looked like them, and we wanted to have this group. So, that’s how we chose those cities. Not necessarily to have the most impact in the individual cities themselves.   

Ainar:                    Okay. Why I’m asking this question is because my part in this podcast is about the management, the ideas of how to manage the future. And before we go there, I will ask one more question about 100RC. You mentioned before that you have good relations with them, with some mayors and governors. You know them in person. So, maybe some of them, after many years, are now your friends. That means you know their personalities. My question is, now, when you know these personalities, these people, how can you describe, with a few words, their management, what they want, what they need, how they plan the future? What are their needs now, and how they measure the impact to the future?   

Michael:              That’s a good question, and it speaks to the heterogeneity of cities more generally. What I mean by that is, cities are run very differently. And so, the mayors and the governors of the cities have very different personalities. In some places, they’re very political, because they need to win the election in order to get there. The mayor of New York is a good example of that. He was a city councilman before, and he ascended, and he ran a very compelling campaign of ideas, and he got there. He’s less of a manager, and more of an ideas guy. That’s one archetype.

But, there are other places, like in the Netherlands, like the city of Rotterdam, where the mayor is appointed by the city council. He’s a technocrat. He has a totally different perspective. Now, he still is responsive to the city council, and they’re responsive to the people. So, he still has to manage politics a little bit, but less than the mayor of New York, because he’s not worried so much about a populist reelection or anything like that, he is thinking. And that has allowed some more long-term thinking, I think. Places that have that structure – he has a slightly different kind of perspective.

This guy is a very interesting guy, actually. He’s an engineer, and a migrant. I think he’s a Moroccan migrant to the Netherlands. He’s very young. Ahmed Aboutaleb. At the time of 100RC, he was Europe’s only large city Muslim mayor. So, he had a very interesting perspective. Now London has Sadiq Khan, so there’s another. But, his engineering also gave him a perspective about systems – the economic system, the environmental system, the social system and how those things work together. And that’s why you see such interesting innovations in Rotterdam, I think. 

Ainar:                    And we start our podcasts with Marek and Alexander with a 100-year plan, and we try to think about the future not just from the smaller trends like technologies or a new iPhone or something like that. This is not even a trend for us. So, we think about how another few billion people will be urbanized, this type of thinking. And now, I want to connect all your experiences of working with these people, and your reflection of this experience, and the changes or problems in the next 100 years. And imagine, with all these resources of knowledge and connection, you have the ability, and you have endless resources and endless connections to start doing something maybe a little bit different or maybe radically different to what they’re doing now, and you don’t have a limit on resources, influence and power – what will you do, at least for the next 10 or 20 years?  

Alexander:         To make the future better.   

Michael:              So, I’d act in three ways. I wanna talk about the how, how we act. Because, for me, that’s the most important differentiator in more or less resilient cities. It’s how they think about their problems and opportunities. So, I would act in a more inclusive way. I would find the best practice in ways that cities have been inclusive in how they engage the people. There’s a very interesting effort underway called participatory budgeting, which started maybe 15-20 years ago in Latin America, in a southern Brazilian city called Porto Alegre. It basically gives apportion of the discretionary budget to people and allows them, through a process, to allocate that. And other cities have picked it up, and NYC has a small pilot around that too. So, it’s spreading a little bit.

But, I would think about real ways to be inclusive. And that’s not easy. One of the biggest issues is how the informal city, the slums and informal settlements, interacts with the formal. We know that’s a very challenging thing. But I would start to elevate that, and make it a really key part of my agenda, how we can, in a more organized way, interact with, listen to people in the communities, on the streets. And that takes discipline. Lots of cities will ask: “What do you think we should design here? What should go here? How shall we spend our money?” But, it’s much harder to create a long-term, sustained feedback loop that does that inclusive behavior. “You said this, we went back and thought about it, we changed that…” It doesn’t mean you have to listen to everything any crackpot at any community meeting says. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying a sustained and intentional way of engaging people. So, that would be one big thing.

The second is, I would think very carefully- and this is, in some ways, what the chief resilience officer was trying to do. I would think very carefully about the balance between vertical action in sectors – so transportation, people talking to transportation people, housing people, talking to housing people, economic development... That’s the way cities are organized right now. They have been over the last 50 or 60 years. I’d think very carefully about that, which is important. And the horizontal. How do we connect integrated action? When I build a park, I shouldn’t just build a park. I should be building a climate change adaptation, I should be building a cultural institution, I should be building economic opportunities, I should be building engagement mechanisms. All of those things together. And that takes people not just thinking about their individual- you know, the parks people only think about where children play, how many acres, what the trees and the greenery looks like. But it’s connecting it to the rest of the city’s needs and goals. That’s the second thing.

And the third thing – and this is why I’m talking to you, in some ways – is that you need to be very aware of what the risks are. So, we need to factor in risk management much more intentionally, but we need to be forward-looking and future-facing, because we know the risks of the last 100 years are not the same as the risks of the next 100 years. This is your point. And so, I would encompass more thinking and scenario planning to make sure that all of my actions look longer-term.

So, I think those are the three big things. Now, there are reasons why this is all hard. It has to do with governance and the scales at which different actors are empowered to act. Mayors can control their little thing, but not the larger urban extent. So, there are reasons why what I just described is very hard. And mayors also look for quick wins, shovel-ready projects that they can do right now, because they only have a few years, and then they have to run for reelection, or someone else is coming in. And so, that makes it very hard, because to really fundamentally change cities in the way that we’re describing, it takes sustained effort over a generation, and some continuity.

One last thought. Part of the answer to that is the inclusiveness that I talked about first. If you involve civic institutions and communities and people in the decision making, they will make sure that those projects survive political changes. Most of the time, not always. But they will give that continuity to projects over the span of what it takes to actually do transformational things. So, that will be really important.  

Ainar:                    Thank you, Michael. And one more question. Imagine we have some new organization, kind of United Nations, but with just one goal – to help and prevent the bad future for us. And imagine this organization has participants from all governments, so very close to the United Nations structure. Imagine they have their first forum. After so many years of preparation, tis organization was launched, and now they have authority to make decisions, and many governments will follow those decisions. So, my question is, what is the first decision that should be made by this new organization? And I’m going to increase the stress of this question a little bit. The whole world pay attention to this decision, and they expect something. So, that’s why this question is important.  

Michael:              I think at least one of the things that they should do would be to help countries standardize governance around urban areas. Because right now, it is so different from city to city, country ti country, who has the authority to do what. It makes it very hard for anyone to act in the right way. And to go back to the Netherlands example, what’s also interesting there is that they mandate that cities in a particular area participate in a regional planning council, where the mayor of the largest city in that area is the chair. And it creates a kind of collective effort between the regional cities. So, it has enough teeth- because the mayor of the largest city actually has more authority, it has enough teeth that there’s some give and take there.

One of the things that I’ve been advocating that the UN do for a long time is put out some guidance on governance of cities, how to set up the right governance structure. But, in many countries, you have different governance structures for the capital versus the smaller [inaudible] finance projects and so on. So that makes it very difficult to get anything done, because there is such heterogeneousness. Even in the US, the Mayor of NYC has [inaudible] in one structure, and has a massive budget, almost 100 billion US dollars a year between capital and operational. In other places like Los Angeles, it’s much more fragmented, and I think that’s the case all over the world. And so, in order to make the right kinds of progress, having a little more standardization about what that looks like will empower local leaders, who I believe are the most practical and innovative and least political, to really drive forward change that we need. And the UN, a super UN could enforce those countries to actually make those changes, and I think that would be really helpful.  

Marek:                 On that note, I’m gonna jump in. Who else do you think would be really useful to invite to this podcast, either that you know, or that you’ve listened to but you don’t know personally? We ourselves would really love to be inviting some of those mayors that you worked with to this podcast. Who are the people that you think should be invited to talk about risk?  

Alexander:         And you could talk about the resilience officers from Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, because it’s a very interesting experience, and our listeners will be shocked by this information. Or thinkers – different types of people.   

Michael:              I’ll give you a couple. Do you know the futurist Alex Steffen? He’s a climate futurist. He’s the most closely related to the kinds of things you’re thinking about. So, he’s a friend of mine, and you can drop my name if you reach out to him. There’s the former mayor of Quito, Ecuador, his name is Mauricio Rodas. He does some lecturing at the University of Pennsylvania, he’s got a fellowship at a think tank. I think the ex-mayors are better than the mayors because they will be able to speak a little bit more freely. So, I think that’s another interesting one. Henk Ovink – he’s the Dutch ambassador for water. He might be harder. He’s on my board, and a very close friend, but he’s a very busy guy, so I don’t know. But he’s the special envoy for water, and he was involved in the rebuilding of New York after hurricane Sandy, that’s how we know each other.  

Alexander:         And think about one more important topic and the people you know. Yesterday, I gave a speech at a conference, and I explained to the [inaudible] the United Nations and APCC, before 2050, we will see around 300 million climate refugees. And recently, United Nations repeated this. And people say: “But who is working on a program to settle all these people?” This is not the cities, this is temporary camps, but to relocate 300 million people, we never dared in our history. And maybe you know people who are working on this whole program in the United Nations, or you will think maybe we could launch this project, because it’s impossible these 300 million.   

Michael:              That gives me an idea. So, there’s a woman named Vittoria Zanuso. She’s the executive director of the Mayors Migration Council. She used to work for me at 100RC. They’re thinking very explicitly about migration. And Khoo Teng-Chye, who used to be director of the Singapore Center for Livable Cities. It’s Singapore’s think tank on urbanization. It’s as much about exporting Singaporean ideas as it is about importing them.  

Marek:                 Wonderful. In that case, thank you very much for giving us this extra time today, and for taking part in our podcast. I will sent you the link once it’s all up. Thank you very much.   

Michael:              Thanks, guys. Nice to see you.    
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