The city of Minneapolis took a bold step last year when it accepted the challenge from the Rockefeller Foundation to hire a chief resilience officer. Simply put, cities too often focus on responding to things — not preparing for them and what could happen after. In an era when cities are confronted by rapid technological change, social unrest, climate change and other rapid-fire challenges, it is not enough to simply respond. The city must prepare to change and thrive in a rapidly changing environment.
As Minneapolis’ first chief resilience officer, it has been my job to lead development of a strategy to help our city survive, adapt and thrive in the face of ongoing stresses and whatever big shocks come our way. A resilience strategy requires city government to partner with the community.
As I leave this role (“Minneapolis resilience chief resigns,” Feb. 14), I am proud to say the people of Minneapolis have shown they are committed to preparing the city to respond and thrive in the face of big challenges. I spent much of my time in this role listening to people: one-on-one, at events and in workshops. We surveyed people about resilience in Minneapolis. I spent time with city staff members, getting to know how our city government operates from the professionals who make it work. Well more than 2,000 people have engaged in development of a Minneapolis resilience strategy.
While the planning has just begun, I want to honor the generosity and insight of the folks who have engaged in a resilience strategy in Minneapolis by sharing my thoughts coming out of this work.
According to our survey, the critical concerns facing Minneapolis are aging infrastructure, crime and violence, economic inequality, lack of affordable housing, and climate change. By far, the shock people are concerned about most is an economic crisis, which any of these other factors could contribute to.
I heard a lot of satisfaction with the basics of city government, yet there is a palpable sense that Minneapolis is not working for everyone. Furthermore, a lot of good things are happening in Minneapolis, but we are not doing the big things that really matter for taking on the challenges we face.
Doing the big things to meet our challenges is where resilience work adds value.
I believe people feel we aren’t capable of taking on the big things because we don’t have the tools to do the work we need to do together. In other words, we live in a declining democracy and face challenges that can only be addressed in a thriving democracy. We can commit to building that right here in our city.
So, how can we rebuild democracy in our city to make it more resilient?
The following could get us started:
• Grow economic security so everyone has the capacity to engage in public life from a place of personal security. Everyone should be able to afford a safe place to call home and live in neighborhoods where they feel safe. What would it look like if every Minneapolis family had a $500 emergency fund? This would take comprehensive wealth-building targeted to specific communities in which our systems have made wealth-building difficult.
• Ensure that everyone feels safe in their communities and while interacting with their government. Minneapolis should lead on bridging communities in our city that are segregated from each other. We should build up the already amazing civic leadership work in our city to make sure everyone can engage effectively in public life. Government leaders need to act in ways that show they see residents as partners in creating our city’s future.
• Develop and support narratives of our city that celebrate the power, vibrancy and diversity of all our city’s neighborhoods as places where young people can thrive. For example, north Minneapolis is full of business and civic innovators who are already doing this work, and the city should learn from and be led by them. What would it look like if the city government went all in on supporting our struggling school district?
• Make Minneapolis a climate champion, leading the way on navigating the realities of a changing planet together. Minneapolis’ climate action plan is nearly five years old. We need to recommit to climate leadership. The city also needs a climate adaptation plan, something it does not currently have.
We live in a time that calls for the best leadership from all of us. Leadership that is about working together across interests, not dividing people. Leadership focused on changing the systems that create our challenges, not just addressing the symptoms. A healthy democracy enables us all to offer this leadership.
Resilience, ultimately, is the ability to strengthen our city — its governance, its services and its people — so we don’t just respond to the challenges, but learn and thrive in the face of them.
Kate Knuth lives in Minneapolis and served as the city’s first chief resilience officer.