Resilient Regions, Resilient Globe

10.1.2013 | Across the planet, the human race is reorganizing itself on an epic scale. One hundred years ago, just 10 percent of the approximately 1.65 billion of us lived in cities. By 2050, when, according to population growth projections, there will be 9 billion of us, 75 percent of the world’s population will live in cities.

Here at BRR, we’ve been concentrating on regional resilience, particularly the metropolitan regions within the United States. The Rockefeller Foundation’s “100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge” takes an even broader look at urban resilience—across the planet and in the face of growing climate troubles, human demands, and that exponential urbanization.

The Challenge’s site lays out a familiar definition for resilience: “Building resilience is about making people, communities and systems better prepared to withstand catastrophic events—both natural and manmade—and able to bounce back more quickly and emerge stronger from these shocks and stresses.”

Cities had until Sept. 23 to apply for eligibility to be in the Challenge. If selected,

the applicant must agree to work with The Rockefeller Foundation’s partners to establish the suite of financial and technical assistance support to develop and implement the resilience plan, become an integrated member of the 100 Resilient Cities Network, and create or expand the role of a Chief Resilience Officer within the municipal government. All selected cities receiving grant money must use the financial resources in accordance with the suite of support determined in conjunction with The Rockefeller Foundation’s partners and must collaborate to play an active role in the network.

But, to ask a variation on the archetypical Chicago question, “What’s in it for them?”

Ideas and—even better—a new paradigm.

This post by Heather Grady on feeding more people with less—an urgent concern as the world rapidly urbanizes—is a good example. With urban expansion, demand for both food and fuel increase.  Grady, who is the Foundation’s vice president for foundation initiatives, writes,

There are innovations on the horizon that can be applied and scaled up to increase agricultural production including micro-irrigation, developing more drought- and flood-resistant strains of staples and other food crops, creating 21st-century alternatives to fossil fuel-based fertilizer, and use of more sustainable practices in the production of meat and fish.

But to have a positive impact on poor city and rural communities alike, the cost of these innovations must be borne by government or businesses so they are affordable.

Another solution is offered by Emily S. Cassidy, Paul C. West, James S. Gerber, and Jonathan A. Foley, in a new paper, “Redefining agriculture yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare,” here, at Environmental Research Letters. Their idea? Increase the amount of crops planted for human consumption rather than for animal feed or biofuels. Doing so could feed an additional 4 billion people, they argue.

The Rockefeller Foundation isn’t the only group forecasting trouble ahead on the food front. AGree, a Washington, D.C.-based food policy think tank, published this paper, the gist of which is that advanced research and development is needed to help farmers in developing countries boost local crop production with technology “appropriate to place and people.”

Reducing waste that occurs as developing world farmers store their crops (due to moisture damage, for example) and take their crops from fields to markets (due to bad roads and waste from processing) will help, says AGree. So will lowering barriers to intraregional and international trade. The paper also asks tough questions like: How do you increase production and reduce loss without using any more land or water in order to feed 9 billion people? How do you do so with proper system resilience?

A few more questions I posit: How are you going to do that when so many people are leaving farms and going to the cities (urbanizing populations come from somewhere)? How do you do it with a growing middle class(except here at home, that is) that is increasingly eating meat-based diets (which means more corn)?

Resilience indeed.

Photo / World Bank

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