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P3 2020: U.S. mayors talk city resiliency

Russell Hixson
P3 2020: U.S. mayors talk city resiliency
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE — Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston area in 2017. In a session at the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships annual conference, the city’s mayor spoke about how they can build more resilient cities for tomorrow’s storms.

Building resilient cities and addressing climate change are key said U.S. mayors at the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships annual conference.

In a session on city resiliency, the mayors of Houston, Texas and Miami-Dade County gave their thoughts on how best to build cities that can handle future problems.

Daniella Levine Cava, the newly-elected mayor of Miami-Dade County in Florida, gave her perspective on the direction she wants to see the area go in. 

“We are a paradise,” said Cava. “We have incredible natural beauty, nestled between two natural parks and we have the blessings of diversity and dynamism.”
She said the majority of the population is Spanish-speaking and the county boasts massive tourism with its beaches and water activities like fishing. 

“We are a great destination for tourism and even during this COVID pandemic we are open for business and taking all the precautions we need to assure our visitors’ safety,” said Cava.

But the county has its challenges. Cava explained the community has many divisions in terms of income and upward mobility that need to be addressed aggressively. In the short term, the county is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We need to work collectively with one voice which hasn’t happened up to this point,” Cava said. “The mixed messaging has contributed to difficulties in controlling the spread.”

The spread is creating health issues as well as economic issues. Cava noted that 80 per cent of the county’s businesses have 10 employees or less.

“Many of these are hospitality-based and they have suffered extremely during this pandemic,” said Cava.

She also wants to raise wages, bring down housing prices and address the county’s heavily congested transportation infrastructure.

“We do not have a first-class transit system, so we have an aggressive plan to build that out called the SMART plan,” said Cava.

She also explained the coastal county has immense assets at risk from rising sea levels and she intends to purse aggressive infrastructure solutions to protect them.

The health of the region’s coast is also critical to its economy.

“We live in paradise and a lot is based on our water economy. We have many perils to our system including aging sewage infrastructure which has broken and created problems for the health of our bay,” said Cava. “There is extra fertilizer runoff, and other issues that have made it difficult for bay.”

She said she intends to make a clean environment a major priority.

Conference attendees also heard from Sylvester Turner, the mayor of Houston, Texas. Turner explained how the energy hub is shifting to address climate goals and building infrastructure that can withstand tomorrow’s storms.

Turner noted the city has faced six major storms in the past five years, including Hurricane Harvey which impacted more than 300,000 buildings and structures.

“It’s about dealing with shocks and stresses,” said Turner. “It’s not enough to build something back the way it used to be. If you do that you build for failure. You have to build forward.”

The city is addressing this with its recently passed climate plan. The city intends to meet Paris Accord climate goals by 2050 or sooner by working in collaboration with the Texas energy sector.

“There is no U.S. federal climate mandate or state mandate,” said Turner. “We are a municipal utility. We have to work in collaboration with the energy sector and they have embraced it.”

The plan calls for flooding the region with clean tech companies, planting millions of trees and putting more electric vehicles on the road.

Turner is also planning capital investment for transportation, energy transition, building optimization and material science. And progress is already being made. Turner boasted that currently all the city’s buildings are 100 per cent run on renewable energy.

“We are all coming together to do this even in the midst of a pandemic,” said Turner. “This is the energy capital of the world talking about climate change action. Years ago you would not have seen energy companies standing with any mayor of Houston talking about climate change action.”

 

Follow the author on Twitter @RussellReports.

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