A Plan for Norfolk to Survive

The following is an excerpt from a piece that originally appeared in The Virginian-Pilot on November 1, 2015. Click the link to read the full piece.


AMERICANS FIX things. We deal with disasters – natural and human-made – by throwing people and equipment and expertise and money at a problem until sheer will rebuilds.

That approach has served us well as a nation and especially in a place like Norfolk, which has burned and flooded and been overtaken by disease and war almost continually in its very long history.

But the idea of overwhelming disaster with repair overlooks perhaps the most important component of any true recovery: The resilience of the victims and the place where they live.

That idea of resilience, and building the capacity of a place to recover, is at the forefront of an initiative by The Rockefeller Foundation to help communities all over the world think about trouble in a different way.

The foundation is in the midst of a multiyear effort to identify “100 Resilient Cities” and encourage them to build and expand their ability to rebound from adversity.

Early on, that roster included Norfolk, which has spent more than a year working on a strategy to deal with a raft of problems, many of which can be traced to the undeniable facts that seas here are rising and the land is sinking and that the city floods chronically.

The cities in the Rockefeller initiative all have problems, some in common and some unique.

In Singapore, they’re also worried about flooding, as they are in Oakland, Calif., though their first concern is earthquakes. In Amman, Jordan, there’s a constant shortage of energy, as in Kigali, Rwanda, where they’re also worried about crumbling infrastructure, as in Toyama, Japan, where the aging population is also a pressure.

Such common concerns provide a wellspring of best practices, of ideas that move communities toward better resiliency and even adaptation.

But solutions, even to common problems, have to be tailored to the cities themselves to have any hope of success.

In other words, what may work in Singapore may not work in Norfolk.

“Building resilience is about making people, communities and systems better prepared to withstand catastrophic events – both natural and manmade – and able to bounce back more quickly and emerge stronger from these shocks and stresses.”

That should be the goal of any city in 2015, and especially for Norfolk. This resilient historic city, which has transformed itself so often over the past 400 years, will undoubtedly see countless other changes – many we can’t imagine – over its next 400.

It’s up to us to make the most of them.


Read the full text here.