The logo for GMA’s virtual Annual Convention held last month featured the words, “Cities United: Rising with Resilience.” Although the theme was developed in response to the COVID-19 it can certainly apply to the broad array of challenges cities face every day.
At its core, resiliency is about building capacity to deal with change while continuing to develop and grow. In order to build resiliency, though, we also need to understand the shocks and stresses cities will face.
There are two important questions before us as city leaders. One, have we begun to seriously look at the potential shocks and stresses we’re seeing now and will see in the future? And two, have we taken the time to evaluate the various scenarios that could play out from the impact of these shocks and stresses?
Looking at COVID-19 and inequity, coupled with housing and healthcare issues, economic development and workforce challenges, as well as fiscal and environmental sustainability, what scenarios can we envision and how might they impact Georgia’s cities?
The Institute for Alternative Futures believes you can look at these scenarios in three zones: The Zone of Growing Desperation, the Zone of Conventional Expectation and the Zone of High Aspirations.
Let’s quickly look at each of these. Scenarios from the Zone of Desperation might show us a bleak future, one with continued social unrest and disorder, layoffs, budget deficits, a rise in consumer debt and bankruptcies, overwhelming stresses on our health care system and frustration with every level of government.
The Zone of Conventional Expectations scenarios could get us back to what we call “normal” through a focus on core services and priorities, increased public/private partnerships and increased collabo- ration between all levels of governments. These are all good things that will move our cities, state and nation forward.
It’s the Zone of High Aspirations, though, that could set the stage for us to become more resilient. In my mind, these scenarios will allow cities to meet the challenges of the future—where innovators and disruptors have uncharted territory to explore and new ideas emerge; where local governments become more nimble and agile and more creative in service delivery; where sharing and sacrifice become civic virtues, expertise is sought and appreciated, equity is a given and civic engagement and transparency in- crease significantly.
None of us know exactly what will happen in either the near- or long-term, but it helps to go through the effort of looking at how things may play out. The scenarios we envision may depend on the lenses we use to see and evaluate our future. Whether we see the world in terms of geography, political affiliation, age, or race, what we all have in common is the desire for our cities to thrive and prosper.
As we face the challenges confronting our cities, now and in the future, it is my hope that we lead every community toward the Zone of High Aspirations to achieve long-term resiliency.