Jane Gilbert, Chief Resilience Officer, City of Miami, explains what the role entails and why more cities are hiring for this position.
More cities around the world are hiring Chief Resilience Officers. Jane Gilbert, the City of Miami’s first-ever Chief Resilience Officer, explains what the role entails and why it’s going up the smart city agenda.
SCW: Why are cities such as Miami appointing Chief Resilience Officers?
JG: My role is to develop integrated, innovative solutions to address our city’s vulnerability, including the increasing shocks and stresses associated with climate change, urban growth and our rapidly evolving global economy. All cities globally are facing these same pressures.
In Miami, we are vulnerable to hurricanes and tropical storms. We also need to protect against the risk of a disease pandemic or an economic collapse, as well as chronic stresses related to lack of affordable housing or transportation pressures. There’s sea-level rise too, and that’s a more slow-moving change.
The City of Miami formed the Office of Resilience and Sustainability two years ago when we were chosen to become part of the 100 Resilient Cities network, which is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.
100 Resilient Cities developed the idea of a Chief Resilience Officer. The concept is to have a senior strategic thinker who is advising at the highest level – to the Mayor and the city manager – on how to get the different departments within the city to think in an integrated way, to understand how cities are rapidly evolving and to develop new kinds of responses.
This can be through using technology differently and collaborating better with other governments, private partners and our citizens to develop new solutions.
SCW: What was your route to this position?
JG: Like many careers today, my route was far from direct but if a Chief Resilience Officer position had existed back when I was in graduate school, my eye would’ve been on that job. It’s a dream job that I didn’t know could exist.
It’s a dream job that I didn’t know could exist.
For my undergraduate degree, I studied environmental science and after that, I worked with large corporations on reducing their environmental risks. I then worked with an international non-profit on a social venture.
Later, I went to graduate school, attending the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. I have a Master’s in Public Administration but I focused on urban community development because I wanted to shift further towards making an impact on the community that I lived in and being able to see the results myself.
When I graduated, though, I didn’t go straight into local government; I went and worked in the non-profit world and corporate philanthropy, looking at various ways to strengthen our community.
Directly before taking the position at the City of Miami, I was working at the community-based Miami Foundation, where I brought together Miami-Dade County, Miami Beach and Miami on this unified application to 100 Resilient Cities.
SCW: What does ‘smart city’ mean to you?
JG: ‘Smart city’ or ‘resilient city’ are buzzwords that can sometimes mean different things to different people. When I first started at the City of Miami, I shared the office with our Chief Innovation Officer. We are very aligned in our thinking about where we’re trying to take this city.
Technology is only as good as what it’s used for.
First, a smart city is about really understanding what the city needs. Technology is only as good as what it’s used for – you have to understand: What does the city need? What do our residents need, and how do we employ innovative solutions and data-driven decisions to address those needs and vulnerabilities?
SCW: What is your number-one priority right now?
JG: We’re in the midst of updating our stormwater master plan. That is a process of digitising all our stormwater infrastructure and conducting more in-depth surveys to model groundwater.
A second is related to our Miami Forever bond, which is a general obligation bond passed by our residents in November 2017.
The Bond Commission just approved the first tranche of infrastructure projects that we’re going ahead with. That includes $192 million for flood prevention and sea-level-rise mitigation. We want to move forward quickly on getting that infrastructure in place and will be putting out an RFP (request for proposals) soon.
SCW: What is the biggest challenge that you face?
JG: One of the biggest challenges we face is a mental mindset. People respond to the threat of climate change and sea-level rise in different ways – both residents and the media. There’s one response of denial and running away. There’s another one of panic – “we’re going to all drown”. Both of these are highly unproductive responses.
We are trying to build a culture and an understanding that Miami is looking at this challenge head-on. We’re analysing its risks and we are open to partnerships and working on innovative solutions. Our leadership is firmly committed to making Miami one of the most resilient cities in the world. We believe we are on that path.
SCW: What achievements are you particularly proud of in your current role?
JG: The major one is that our citizens passed the Miami Forever bond. It is a $400 million bond that has resilience built throughout it, including the $192 million I mentioned for flood prevention and sea-level-rise mitigation.
There’s also $100 million towards affordable housing, and we’re looking to multiply that investment five times with private investment to create or preserve at least 12,000 units. A further $78 million is for our parks and cultural facilities. We have many waterfront parks that will need adaptive redesigns and that’s going to be integrated into our resilience strategy.
The rest is for roads and other miscellaneous infrastructure, particularly related to thinking about mobility in different ways. As we become more of an events city, we need to be more reliant on public transit, scooters, bikes and walking, and we are trying pilots in all those areas.
The Miami Forever bond is them putting their trust in their government to invest their dollars in a smart and resilient way.
I am really proud of this achievement because it’s hard to get people to tax themselves. In Miami, 50 per cent of our residents are struggling to make ends meet. A lot of people think of Miami and the high-end real estate and tourism economy but we also have a huge number of workers who are supporting that economy that are having a hard time affording a place to live, and to get to work, etc. This bond is them putting their trust in their government to invest their dollars in a smart and resilient way.
SCW: What is the best part of your job?
JG: I’m driven by making an impact in the community I live in. If you’re interested in making positive change, there is huge opportunity within cities -- particularly if you have a technology or data-related background. You have to be excited about it, though.
SCW: What keeps you awake at night?
JG: Aside from the shocks and stresses that I mentioned, the other thing is public perception. We are a very strong city right now and we’re doing the right things to make it stronger but a change in public perception could tip us in the wrong direction.
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