Kresge’s Refined Approach to Climate Change Seeks City Resilience

The worst is yet to come, and we’d better get ready. The Kresge Foundation’s new environment program strategy isn’t expressed quite as grimly as that, but the message is in there. The Detroit-based foundation has shifted its focus heavily to city resilience in the face of a menacing future. 

The Kresge Foundation finished a refocusing of its environment program this month, aligning it more closely with the funder’s overall goals of expanding opportunities for vulnerable people in cities. The new focus is to help communities become more resiliient to the effects of climate change. The three priorities within that focus are:

  • Reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change
  • Planning for the consequences of climate change that are underway or anticipated
  • Fostering social cohesion and inclusion

While reducing emissions is still an important piece as a way to ease the consequences, equally important under the new program will be learning to prosper while suffering those consequences. Kresge plans to fund place-based innovation in cities that can serve as models, and efforts to build the overall field of climate resilience.

It’s not radically different from the foundation’s earlier program guidelines, which had subprograms on energy efficiency and climate adaptation. But it’s more aligned behind the idea that things are going to get rough, and cities need to get their acts together before it really hits the fan, especially when it comes to vulnerable communities. Kresge believes, with good reason, that poor and minority populations will take the brunt of climate change’s impacts, but also that the issue can’t properly be addressed without inclusion of those communities.

This program shift has been in the works, but it comes on the heels of a report from the International Panel on Climate Change that had frightening words of warning for the world’s leaders. 

“Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger,” the report stated, warning of violent conflict and exacerbation of poverty and inequality.

For years now, Kresge has been one of the most proactive philanthropies focusing on adapting to the looming impacts of climate change, even running the risk of being seen as giving up on stopping them.

But there is something optimistic about Kresge's and foundation President Rip Rapson’s outlook on the matter. There’s pragmatism, but an intentional emphasis on the term resilience, rather than adaptation. Rapson has described it as entering a new era in which we rewrite how cities approach decisions. At a talk in New York, he described how we can look to troubled cities like New Orleans and his own home of Detroit to learn what needs to happen once a community has fallen on severe times:

“Part of that revolution is a reconceptualization of what the future post-industrial city will look like and how it will function. The decisions we make today have to move beyond lifting the city out of a state of extremis toward creating the foundational elements of a city that is stable, vibrant and sustainable.”

Read more about the foundation's refined program here.

Kresge Foundation: Grants for Climate Change