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Share of Rockefeller $100m for 'resilient' Glasgow

The Rockefeller Foundation's Resilient Cities programme has a feel of the science-fictional.

Floods, power outages, bird flu and lethal heatwaves might sound like the stuff of disaster movies, but extreme weather events and fossil fuel shortages are no longer fanciful propositions.

What matters, according to the New York-based philanthropic organisation, is not predicting or preventing future crises but having the versatility to bounce back from them.

Glasgow has been named one of the first 33 Resilient Cities to share $100 million (£60m) and a package of support to prepare for these and other challenges such as an epidemic or economic shock.

Chosen by a panel including former US president Bill Clinton, the city hosted a workshop yesterday as the first step towards a strategy to ensure it can maintain essential functions and regroup quickly in a major crisis.

The city will get a chief resilience officer, funded by the foundation, to bring together ideas and resources to prepare for disaster, and it will join a global network of other resilient cities, including Bristol, Bangkok, Rio, Rome, Christchurch and Melbourne.

The foundation argues that cities can be better prepared for the unexpected and thus recover more quickly when disruption hits. Meanwhile, economic benefits and social improvements can result from the efforts made to strengthen disaster response. It describes this as a resilience "dividend".

Neill Coleman, the Rockefeller Foundation's vice-president of global communications is a Glaswegian himself, born in the Queen Mother's Maternity Hospital, who has lived in the USA since 1998. He said "there's a real competitive and economic advantage from taking a resilience approach. Cities which do will be more attractive to investment from companies attract new jobs and develop new technologies. This investment will pay off through less economic and social damage in a crisis, but will have other benefits as well."

The programme will also help in tackling chronic "stresses" such as Glasgow's pockets of poverty and housing shortages, he added, as addressing social issues such as poor housing now is beneficial for the future.

There is a direct link, he claimed. In the US, the most deprived communities affected by the superstorm Hurricane Sandy have been the slowest to recover.

As well as a chief resilience officer, the chosen cities in the network will gain from shared learning and access to a platform of resilience services from the private and not-for-profit sectors, Mr Coleman said.

What the scheme will not be is an excuse for fact-finding junkets and unnecessary expense, he said. "We came to Glasgow and we think that's the right way to do it. The good thing about today's technology and networks is people can connect in a very effective way while still sitting at their desks in their home cities."

While the $100m fund is dwarfed by the cost of some disasters - such as the $34bn cost of rebuilding earthquake-hit Christchurch in New Zealand - money spent in advance can achieve more and the network can also influence spending by governments and others, Mr Coleman explained. "Clearly we don't have the money to be able to fund cities to rebuild after a disaster. But we can help them access additional financing and help them think about how to spend money in a smart, more strategic way."

A spokeswoman for Glasgow City Council said a variety of resilience measures were already being explored.

These include smart electricity grids that allow power to continue to be provided when part of the grid is affected by a crisis or during periods of high demand.

Meanwhile, a Big Data Hub will make it easier for people to access data about the city and analyse it, she said.

The council is also working with developers to ensure flood prevention measures are incorporated into planned developments. This includes the athletes village for the Commonwealth Games, which is to be repurposed as homes for city residents after the Games, and which has been is designed to withstand a one-in-200-year flooding event.

She added: "Glasgow City Council also works closely with partners in the emergency services and the third sector to plan and prepare for emergencies and ensure help reaches those who need it most swiftly."

Councillor Gordon Matheson, leader of Glasgow City Council, added: "the recent flooding in England graphically demonstrated the need for cities to be prepared for the worst.

"Incidents of exceptional weather are increasing in frequency due to climate change and this is a challenge no city can afford to ignore."

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