Austin Council to start looking into a plan for community resilience

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Austin City Council Members discuss the resolution about a community resiliency plan. Screenshot from ATXN Live May 7, 2020.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council Members unanimously approved a resolution that starts city staff down the road of looking into a plan to support the resilience of the Austin community.

But what does community resilience mean?

As Council Member Leslie Pool who sponsored this resolution put it: “community resilience is really about the capacity of individuals and whole communities to survive, adapt, and thrive no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and/or acute shocks they experience.”

In particular, Pool’s aim is for this plan to “address economic, environmental, social and racial disparities for members of our community.”

Resiliency is a concept other cities and governments have been toying with.

There are 98 cities that make up a Global Resilient Cities Network. Other cities, including Dallas, Houston, and El Paso have a “Chief Resilience Officer” on staff.

In Houston, this position is designed to help the city prepare for, withstand, and bounce back from the ‘shocks’ – catastrophic events like hurricanes, floods, and cyberattacks; and ‘stresses’ – slow-moving disasters like aging infrastructure, homelessness, and economic inequality.

Pool says these are “increasingly part of 21st-century life.”

While resiliency has been on the minds of many city leaders throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Pool explained that she got the inspiration to move down this path from climate resiliency efforts that happened last summer at city hall. Pool said she wanted to take that focus on resiliency and extend it beyond a conversation about climate.

The resolution approved by council Thursday calls on the city of Austin to complete a community resiliency plan for Austin and return to the council with budget recommendations for this plan no later than June 1. This work on the part of city staff will include looking into the possibility of having a Chief Resilience Officer for the city.

This resolution was approved unanimously with Council Member Kathie Tovo, Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, Mayor Steve Adler, and Council Member Alison Alter co-sponsoring the resolution. Amendments were added to the resolution by Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza and Council Member Paige Ellis.

One aspect of the resolution that the council showed some discord on was whether Austin should consider using funding sources from outside the city to fund the Chief Resilience Officer position.

Flannigan explained: “My concern was with this passage was that the funding of that officer would come from a private third party. And I have concerns with private funding in executive positions.”

But as several council members pointed out, this resolution wouldn’t require private funding for the position, it would just leave the option open when city staff comes back with more information.

Garza said if the city goes down the path of creating the position, she wants to see if housed under Austin’s Equity Office.

“This has gotta be an actionable plan, its gotta be driven by community needs, it’s gotta be the Austin plan, because our Black and brown community, they are tired of headlines and they are tired of reports, they want action,” Garza told the council. “So however they move forward with this, it’s gotta be something that really means something and makes change.“

Pool also noted that having these discussions about resiliency during the pandemic response will likely give Austin new tools to use in the future.

“We’ll be able to look back at some point at everything we’ve done in the last two months and going forward and find the best parts of changes that we’ve made and then codify them and make them part of our processes going forward,” Pool said. “So it’s a real watershed time. “

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