With $200 million to spend, New Orleans advances its resilience “strategy”

New Orleans, Louisiana has secured more than $200 million for critical infrastructure and is midway through the city’s largest-ever capital program, 18 months since releasing the world’s first comprehensive urban resilience strategy.

Having established the Office of Resilience and Sustainability and built a multi-disciplinary team, including everything from climate action to design leadership, New Orleans is prepared to fund projects combining water management and storm protection with workforce development and neighborhood revitalization.

The city is currently upgrading drainage infrastructure and repairing streets to reduce flood risk in the future, partnering with environmental management company Veolia and reinsurance company Swiss Re to prioritize system upgrades.

Working with limited resources is precisely the reason for operating with a resilience lens. In many ways, resilience is, for us, synonymous with being strategic,” said New Orleans Chief Resilience Officer Jeff Herbert. “When we are approaching an issue—whether it is transportation or water management—we are working to ensure environmental, social, and infrastructural goals can be met.

Note from Storm:

In the Route Fifty article excerpted above, Jeff Hebert is basically right when he states that “resilience is, for us, synonymous with being strategic.” But resilience is a goal, not a strategy. For resilience efforts to be strategic, one need a strategy for achieving resilience, and–unfortunately–New Orleans’ 88-page “strategic plan” (see link below) lacks a strategy.

This is not an uncommon situation, as described in this Resilience Strategy Guide. There are 50 occurrences of the word “strategy” in that document, but no actual statement of the strategy itself. They almost make a concise statement of strategy when they say they will “Promote sustainability as a growth strategy.” But, like “resilience”, “sustainability” is a goal, not a strategy.

The document often refers to “this strategy“, such as when they say “We are moving beyond our recovery to focus on our future, and this strategy outlines many deliberate steps forward.” What they are referring to as “the strategy” is the 88-page document, which is actually a strategic plan (sans strategy).

The closest their plan comes to making a concise statement of strategy is in what they call their “three visions”:
We will:

  • Redesign our regional transit system to connect people, employment, and essential services;
  • Promote sustainability as a growth strategy Improve the redundancy and reliability of our energy infrastructure Integrate resilience-driven decision making across public agencies Invest in pre-disaster planning for post-disaster recovery;
  • Develop the preparedness of our businesses and neighborhoods.”

Of course, a vision is supposed to describe what you want the strategy to accomplish: it’s not a statement of what you will do. But, with a little re-wording, the above would actually be a good vision statement. Left as it is, it’s a workable strategy statement. And the overall document is a decent strategic plan, that mis-labeled as a strategy.

This confusion of “vision”, “strategy”, and “plan” is what happens when a bunch of smart, knowledgeable, well-meaning folks are asked to draft a strategic plan, without first being briefed on the key terminology. Each element (vision, strategy, policies, partners, plan, projects, program) should be defined, and the roles in the overall process described. Without that, one gets the New Orleans situation: when asked what their strategy is, they hand over an 88-page document.

Post-Katrina New Orleans photo credit: Storm Cunningham

See full article by Dave Nyczepir in Route Fifty.

See Resilient New Orleans website.

Download Resilient New Orleans plan (PDF).

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