Community Environment

Louisville’s new chief resilience officer says the city will look at education, racial equity, economic development and sustainability in a quest to become more resilient in the face of potential long-term and sudden disasters.

Those are the four major areas highlighted in a document scheduled to be released later this morning reporting the outcomes of an agenda-setting workshop held in January.

Last year, the nonprofit 100 Resilient Cities chose Louisville to join its new cohort. By participating in the program, the city gets support identifying its priorities and money to hire the chief resilience officer. Mayor Greg Fischer picked former Metro Director of Community Services Eric Friedlander for the job in April.

“Resilience” is the nebulous quality that helps a city prepare for and bounce back after a sudden or protracted disaster. These disasters include everything from tornadoes to riots to long-term chronic poverty and inequality.

“We’ve had enough shocks here in Louisville to know they’re inevitable,” Friedlander said. “What this work is supposed to do is then say, how do we adapt to those shocks? How do we make sure we grow from those shocks so we’re thriving as a city? That’s what I believe the resilience work is about.”

At the workshop in January, about 200 participants identified poverty and inequality, poor health, low-performing education systems and aging infrastructure as the top chronic stresses on the city. As far as sudden shocks go, economic crises, severe weather and infrastructure failure topped the list.

These are all huge topics, and Friedlander said there’s no obvious way to tackle the problems. He said the next immediate step is to reach out to the larger community to see if people agree with the consensus.

But a large part is also examining the city’s past to help make sense of the present and plan for the future.

“We have to start from really being honest about where we are,” Friedlander said. “Then we have to say, we have these policies that over time have had a negative impact, particularly on folks who are African-American here in Louisville. We got here through intentional policy going back to the 1930s and redlining and even before that, obviously. How do we address those issues in a way that’s proactive?”

Redlining is the institutional practice of denying loans in certain neighborhoods based on their racial demographics.

This report will aid Friedlander in crafting a resilience strategy to outline more details about how Louisville will gird itself against future catastrophes.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Assignment Editor.