Perkins+Will to Facilitate Resilience Planning for Toronto and Louisville as Part of Rockefeller Foundation’s ‘100 Resilient Cities’ Initiative

Perkins+Will announced today that 100 Resilient Cities, pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation aiming to help cities around the world become more resilient to physical, social, and economic shocks and stresses, has selected Perkins+Will as a new Strategy Partner to facilitate the resilience planning for Toronto, Ontario and Louisville, Kentucky. Perkins+Will’s experts will work directly with Toronto’s and Louisville’s citywide Chief Resilience Officers and other stakeholders to create comprehensive resilience strategies for those cities.

“The work that 100 Resilient Cities is doing is critical to the health, vitality, and sustainability of our world’s cities, and we are honored to be collaborating with them to help Toronto and Louisville, where our team has extensive local, on-the-ground experience,” says Janice Barnes, Perkins+Will’s Global Resilience Director.

Barnes, who formerly led Perkins+Will’s Planning and Strategies practice, moved into her new role last month to lead the firm’s growing portfolio of resilience-focused projects, as well as the firm’s focus on resilience as a core tenet of its mission. Such projects include the District of Columbia Climate Adaptation Plan; resilience guidelines for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; RELi, an action list and rating system for resilience; and ongoing resilience planning and tool development with organizations like the American Institute of Architects, the Urban Land Institute, and The Nature Conservancy.

“Our firm has the global expertise, the local know-how, the rigor, and the passion to help cities and clients from every domain become future-ready,” says Perkins+Will Chief Executive Officer Phil Harrison. “Now is the time for us to address our uncertain futures with foresight and thoughtful resilience planning. We are especially excited to get to work with Toronto and Louisville—in partnership with the worldwide resilience leader, 100 Resilient Cities—to expertly guide them through that process.”

Toronto’s Resilience Needs

According to 100 Resilient Cities, Toronto is prone to several climate-related shocks, such as blizzards, rainfall flooding, and heat waves. In fact, the most costly natural disaster in the city’s history—storm flooding in 2013—destroyed 4,579 homes and knocked out power to 750,000 people. City officials worry that a stronger storm would lead to citywide, or even regional, power disruptions, disproportionately affecting the areas’ low-income residents.

Additionally, Toronto has the highest level of working poverty in all of Canada, and has seen income inequality widen more than anywhere else in the country. The city predicts that 60 percent of its neighborhoods will be low or very low-income neighborhoods by 2025.

Louisville’s Resilience Needs

In Louisville, according to 100 Resilient Cities, the city is at high risk for negative impacts from a heat wave; in fact, it has been identified as one of the most rapidly warming cities in the country due in large part to urban heat island effects. A major heat wave, if one were to strike, would cause multiple deaths, increase medical costs for low-income residents, and increase utility expenses for residents across the board.

Additionally, economic inequality is a growing concern, and disadvantaged populations regularly contend with pollution, inadequate infrastructure, and other challenges that lead to poor health and scant employment opportunities.

How Perkins+Will Can Make a Difference

Perkins+Will’s responsibilities as a Strategy Partner for Toronto and Louisville are fivefold:  

  1.  Work with the cities to build public awareness of resilience issues and understand their residents’ perceptions about resilience; 
  2.  Examine existing planning assessments to determine how they might contribute to the cities’ resilience; 
  3.  Categorize the types of shocks and stresses that may affect those cities (a “shock: is an immediate burden, like a flash flood, whereas a “stress” is a more long-term burden, like entrenched poverty);  
  4.  Help the cities identify their assets and their weaknesses (an example of an asset might be city streets, while a weakness might be decaying infrastructure); and 
  5.  Determine scenarios in which these shocks and stresses could have a uniquely damaging ripple effect on those assets and weaknesses, and in turn, use that information to inform a comprehensive resilience strategy. 

 To better understand how shocks, stresses, and weaknesses can impact a city, Hurricane Katrina—and the resulting flooding that devastated New Orleans’ poorest communities—is a useful case study. The flooding (a shock) pulverized entire sections of a city because ailing levies (a weakness) couldn’t contain the floodwaters, and because all of the people in entrenched poverty (a chronic stress) had no resources or adequate infrastructure to evacuate or to rebuild.

“Seeing and planning cities through this lens allows us to home in on key social, economic, environmental, and organizational issues that need to be addressed to ensure the cities can withstand, and rebound from, various stresses and shocks,” says Basak Alkan, an urban designer at Perkins+Will and part of the team working with 100 Resilient Cities. “When we know what works, what doesn’t work, and what the likely consequences of a local disaster are, we can prioritize actions accordingly.”

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