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City to Create a ‘Resilience District’ with Award from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Seattle Receives $600,000 from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to Continue Community-Led Health, Equity, and Climate Change Adaptation Work in the Duwamish Valley

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has awarded the City of Seattle a $600,000 grant to work with community partners in the Duwamish Valley on a strategy that will improve health, increase community resilience, and adapt to the impacts of a changing climate. This work will specifically deliver on key actions identified in the City-community shared Duwamish Valley Action Plan that was released in 2018.

Photo credit: Tom Reese

“This award is a remarkable testament to the excellent foundation of trust and creative solutions the City’s interdisciplinary Duwamish Valley Program and community partners have built over the past few years,” said Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. “We have seen that COVID-19 has magnified health and economic disparities, especially for communities of color. As we address the COVID-19 crisis and begin to recover, we must build a more equitable and resilient city. Through this collaboration, we can help advance a new model of how to address health, equity, and climate change for our residents and businesses.” 

Funding from RWJF will support the City with developing a Resilience District—a geographic strategy, inspired by global models, focused on adapting to flood risk and other climate change impacts as a key first step towards adapting to a changing climate, while taking a comprehensive approach that fosters community resilience. Specifically, the award will fund detailed scenario planning for a sea level rise adaptation strategy, research of financial models and equitable investment mechanisms, capacity building and partnership development across government institutions and community stakeholders, extensive communication and inclusive engagement, and implementation of “proof of concept” projects. More importantly, the approach will center the participation and decision-making of Duwamish Valley residents and businesses, embed a racial equity approach in each aspect of the project, and identify sustainable funding sources and investment mechanisms that will help prevent the displacement of impacted communities and foster health and equity.

The project team reviewed successful models of community resilience and scenario planning from across the world. Specifically, the team drew inspiration and lessons from successful projects in Brazil, Puerto Rico, and New Zealand. These projects offer guidance and strategies for sustainable funding mechanisms, tools for equitable distribution of benefits, community and cross-sector collaboration in creating a special planning district, and participatory decision-making in scenario planning—notably in communities that are vulnerable to earthquakes and flooding.

“We join our partners in the City of Seattle to celebrate this great news,” said Paulina López, executive director of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition. “For many years, we have worked together to address health disparities and racial inequities in the Duwamish Valley, centering the voice of community in decision-making, planning, and implementation of projects and investments—on issues that directly impact us. The work of this grant will also offer opportunities for equitable investments that will improve health outcomes and advance anti-displacement strategies, flooding prevention, and adaptation to a changing climate. I am really grateful for Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s award and commitment to greatly improve living conditions in our community and for their support to ensure this work becomes a model for others to replicate in Seattle, in the U.S., and around the world.” 

The Office of Sustainability & Environment and the Office of Planning & Community Development lead Seattle’s Duwamish Valley Program, a multi-departmental effort to advance environmental justice and equitable development. The interdisciplinary team of 18 City departments is responsible for the ongoing implementation of the Duwamish Valley Action Plan, including the execution of this grant project. Seattle Public Utilities will also be taking on a leadership role in ensuring the success of the project.

“Since 2018, Seattle Public Utilities has been working with community partners to plan and design drainage and water management infrastructure to help alleviate stormwater-related flooding in South Park and Georgetown,” said Mami Hara, General Manager, Seattle Public Utilities. “However, as sea level rises, we will be challenged by overtopping of the Duwamish River, which will require additional mitigation. We are incredibly grateful for Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s support because it will allow us to lead with addressing needs and aspirations of Black, Indigenous and people of color in Seattle’s lowest lying lands to begin long-term planning to adapt to sea level rise and other projected impacts from a changing climate.”

“Advancing equitable development and environmental equity in South Park and Georgetown has been a priority for the City of Seattle for years,” said Sam Assefa, Director of the Office of Planning & Community Development. “The Foundation’s support will allow us to expand this work by coordinating with industrial stakeholders working on the Seattle’s Maritime & Industrial Strategy. We are looking forward to helping our residential and industrial stakeholders stay and thrive in place despite projected climate change impacts.”

This project is part of a $3 million initiative from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to bring the most impactful ideas from across the globe to U.S. cities to address the intertwined issues of health, equity, and climate change. Through six projects funded through this initiative, RWJF is fostering learning and stimulating action in U.S. cities around smart, effective approaches from abroad that mitigate the unequal health risks posed by climate change.