Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, Director of Sustainability, City of Atlanta, and Michael Berkowitz, President, 100 Resilient Cities, attend a press conference with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, Director of Sustainability, City of Atlanta, and Michael Berkowitz, President, 100 Resilient Cities, attend a press conference with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

By Grace Huseth

In May 2016, Atlanta was chosen as a one of the 100 Resilient Cities from more than 325 applicants spanning more than 90 countries across six continents. Created by the Rockefeller Foundation, the initiative is dedicated to helping cities around the world become more resilient to physical, social and economic challenges.

“I believe this partnership with the 100 Resilient Cities will help us be better at the initiatives we are working on today because they bring all district efforts that are occurring in the City of Atlanta into a more unified plan,” said Mayor Kasim Reed. “This will generate a bigger bang for our buck because we will be working in a more coordinated fashion using best practices, not just from within the United States, but from all over the world.”

100 Resilient Cities offered an Agenda Setting Workshop to more than 100 government, business, academia, civic community stakeholders in Atlanta on Sept. 19 at the Carter Center.  Facilitated exercises allowed for leaders from a variety of backgrounds to pool ideas, rank the city’s performance based along the 100RC Resilience Framework and identify the parties that could assist with the preparation for the strategy process.

“What I hear repeatedly in these conversations is that people say resiliency is about breaking down silos. We have so many department heads and important facets of city government represented, but ‘City’ also means the whole structure of that makes the city work including NGOs, business leaders and the philanthropic community,” said Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, City of Atlanta Director of Sustainability.

Reed said the City of Atlanta’s current sustainability initiatives include the Better Buildings Challenge to reduce energy use, electric vehicle programs and lean efforts at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. Environmental efforts include the Bellwood Quarry which will supply a 30-90 day water supply in the event of a drought and the Climate Action Plan to address severe weather events.

The city will hire a Chief Resiliency Officer (CRO) and the 100 Resilient Cities will offer guidance to find a suitable candidate within 45 days. The Rockefeller Foundation will provide funding for the salary of the CRO for two years with the hopes that that the City of Atlanta will renew the position.

Liza Milagro, Sr. Sustainability Planner at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport shares her definition of resiliency at the 100 Resilient Cities Agenda Setting Workshop.

“We are going to get a person who lives and breathes this, that quarterbacks the effort and has the full support of my office and appropriate funding and staff,” said Reed, “The real benefit here is not reinventing the wheel and the public sector identifies who is doing this better than everybody else.”

The CRO will visit other cities, the Rockefeller Foundation and Resilient Cities team to identify the best work that is being done and how Atlanta could adopt practical strategies. Reed said this will give Atlanta access to a significant pool of resources, while adding expertise as well. For example, the Atlanta Beltline is among the largest, most wide-ranging urban redevelopment and mobility projects currently underway in the United States and can serve as an example to other cities.

“I have to believe we are doing the Atlanta BeltLine better than anybody else in the world. If someone wanted to do a transit reclamation project, I think they should come to Atlanta and we would open the doors,” Reed said. “I hope the work we are doing in Atlanta will encourage other cities, and states in the Southeast, to be more welcoming of these efforts.”


Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.