International Women’s Day: Celebrating Women Who Make Our Cities Stronger

Women have been essential to city resilience thinking since the field’s genesis with the publication of Jane Jacobs’ The Life and Death of Great American Cities. For International Women’s Day, 100RC spoke with some of the field’s visionaries, asking about their work in cities, obstacles to success, advice to peers, and dreams for cities in the future.

Victoria SalinasVictoria Salinas was Oakland’s Chief Resilience Officer from 2014 to 2016.

“Women are often seen as relationship oriented, connectors, able to multi-task.  These are the same traits that are helping bust down institutional silos and foster cross-sector collaboration,” said Salinas. She has worked with women change makers “taking an integrated approach to addressing our world’s cities’ most challenging problems” in places like Kingston, Jamaica, Tbilisi, Georgia, and now, she’s leading resilience building efforts in Oakland, California.

“The refrains seared in my mind from so many communities striving to recover are what fuel my dedication to Oakland’s resilience now,” said Salinas. Her advice to young women is simple and straight-forward – “When you have a dream, go for it. When you have a passion, nurture it.”

Dayna Cunningham

Source: Dayna Cunningham

Dayna Cunningham is the Executive Director of the MIT CoLab.

Cunningham has noticed “an emergence of young women of color who are becoming skilled in community development and in planning-related fields,” who are “very strong and decisive,” but at the same time, “collaborative and inclusive.”

One of CoLab’s key values is “innovation from the margins” – people living at society’s margins experience “a variety of institutional failures,” which give them “insight into institutional innovation” that can generate collaborative innovation. Cunningham described a CoLab waste management project in Nicaragua featuring an all-female cooperative of trash pickers who are “taking on a major global issue [waste management]… through collaboration, [and] shared value creation,” while at the same time supporting themselves and their families financially.

Dr. Debra Roberts is Durban, South Africa’s Chief Resilience Officer, and heads the Environmental Planning and Climate Protection Department of eThekwini (Durban) Municipality.

“Resilience sits at the nexus of science, power, and politics – areas that are still often male preserves in many places around the world,” said Dr. Roberts. As women are in the minority in this field, Dr. Roberts feels that the “biggest hurdle is to get colleagues to respect one as a technical equal.”

She belives that women’s “multitasking and keen and nuanced eye” make them “resilience naturals.” She encourages women to “be determined, focused, and passionate” while at the same time acknowledging that “change takes place very slowly.”

Dr. Vikas Desai


Dr. Vikas Desai conducting community outreach in Surat. Source: Dr. Vikas Desai

Dr. Vikas Desai serves as the Technical Director for the Urban Health and Climate Resilience Centre (UHCRC) in Surat, India.

Dr. Desai finds that women in India (and around the world) “learn lessons of resilience from [the] cradle,” given the day to day challenges they face. She believes resilience cannot be built in “isolation,” and that women understand the “need and urgency” to contribute to resilience.

Looking to the future, Dr. Desai envisions cities that are conflict and violence free, inclusive of public health, and which have women and child-centric design. Since cities are microcosms of the world, she advises young women working in cities to “think globally, [and] act locally.”

Christine Morris

Christine Morris is the City of Norfolk’s Chief Resilience Officer.

Morris believes that since urban resilience is such a new concept, “women have an incredible opportunity to shape the newest thinking about how urban design, land use, neighborhood and community development decisions impact citizens’ success.” Resilience frameworks help cities consider “co-benefits for every investment” they make. This is an “incredible opportunity” that “women, especially, will embrace.”

Morris believes “cities have the ability to be engines of innovation,” and in the future, cities must be “committed to transparency, especially open data, open input, [and] understanding that the best idea could come from anywhere.”

This is just a small sampling of the various female visionaries working in cities across the globe; feel free to call out women working in cities who have inspired you in the comments.

Header photo: Woman looking at city. Flickr, darkday, remixed by 100RC.