IonE’s Kate Knuth becomes Minneapolis’ first chief resilience officer
Saying goodbye to colleagues is always hard, but it’s a lot easier when you couldn’t be prouder of where they’re headed. As director of the Boreas Leadership Program, Kate Knuth was an integral part of the Institute on the Environment for six years. Last week, she became the City of Minneapolis’ first-ever chief resilience officer, a role created through the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities project. Knuth took time to tell us about her new position.
Will you start by telling us a little bit about your new role?
I am the first Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Minneapolis. My job is to build resilience, of course! But what does that mean? I’ll be helping the city better prepare for and manage both ongoing stresses like inequity and rising housing costs as well as shocks like a big storm or infrastructure failure. We live in challenging times full of change. We don’t just want Minneapolis to muddle through, we want the city and its people to grow and come out stronger along the way.
Our first work will be to develop a resilience strategy for Minneapolis. Developing this strategy will involve a lot of listening to and partnering with different folks, both inside government and in the broader community. I’ll also be working with a team to analyze what is happening in the city. There is already so much great work happening in Minneapolis, both in city government and in the community. We will then focus on deeply analyzing key drivers of change and challenges in Minneapolis. All of this work will be done with an eye toward protecting and improving people’s lives. We will work on implementing changes right away that will improve the ability of our city to manage its challenges and pivot to full implementation as quickly as possible.
The work is supported by 100 Resilient Cities, which is working with cities around the globe on building resilience. The network, partners, and expertise Minneapolis has access to through 100 Resilient Cities will add a lot to our work. We simultaneously have a lot to get better at and a lot to share with others about what Minneapolis does well. I’m excited to be a connection between Minneapolis and the wider 100 Resilient Cities network, adding value in both directions through this connection.
What about this opportunity felt like the right next step to you?
One of my strongest core values is a commitment to the place I call home. In my career, I aim to help my home gracefully navigate the many challenges of our time. It’s a huge bonus if I get to be part of Minnesota leadership in broader contexts. It’s hard to imagine a better job than Chief Resilience Officer of Minneapolis through which I can live this core value right now.
I also think I bring a useful mix of skills, experiences, and relationships to the role. I served in the Minnesota House of Representatives, where I developed relationships with a lot of people around Minnesota and got a broad perspective on issues facing Minneapolis and the state. I’m also finishing up a dissertation that uses resilience thinking as a foundation for asking questions about social change to make progress on sustainability. Finally, I have been studying leadership and developing leadership in others. Building resilience involves a lot of people stepping into leadership work. I hope to help facilitate that.
Frankly, one of the things I am most excited about is becoming deeply connected to, knowledgeable about, and embedded in my city. I had that experience as a legislator, and I miss it.
What are the one or two things from your time leading Boreas – and in general, your time at IonE – that you think you’ll carry with you?
Both IonE and the Boreas Leadership Program intentionally work with people from many different disciplines. Working in this way isn’t easy, but we do it because it’s important and useful for making the kind of progress we need to thrive in our time. As part of Boreas, I regularly led workshops with students from five or six different colleges, trying to facilitate learning and relationships among, for example, engineering, public health, ecology, and policy students. I got better at this with practice, and I expect being able to understand and translate across disciplines and perspectives will be useful in my new role.
Working with the amazing students in the Boreas Program has made me fundamentally hopeful about our future. We have some really serious challenges; I am clear-eyed about that. Yet Boreas students are a real reminder of the countless people who are committed to each other and making our future better. We can do what we need to. It will be hard, but we can do it.
What role do you think cities and universities have in shaping a sustainable future?
Important ones! Urbanization, or people moving to cities, is a huge global trend. By the middle of the century, we expect about 70 percent of the world’s people will live in cities. At the same time, there are going to a be a lot more people on the planet. Sustainability is about people and the planet thriving. How do we make sure earth can not only support all the people living on it, but that all people can thrive through the many challenges a crowded planet creates? Cities are where we will figure that out.
One thing we certainly need for sustainability is different and better knowledge. Universities are institutions created to develop knowledge. We need universities to get better at developing the kinds of knowledge society needs to meet sustainability challenges. We also need people who can use this knowledge in helping society solve and manage problems. Universities have a huge role in education. They need to get better at developing people not only with the skills, but also with the values and sense of duty, to effectively do sustainability and, I would add, resilience work.
I think the idea of citizenship is essential to both the knowledge development and education universities need to be doing. In this case, I use the word “citizenship” not as a legal status, but as way of being in the world. How can people get better at working together for the common good? How do we make sure all people have the opportunity to grow and thrive? What kinds of governance approaches would help? What do people need to know about the relationships between natural and human systems on a crowded planet? How do we foster a sense of mutual responsibility between individuals and community? How do we make good decisions when information flow and the pace of change are so fast?
If I was leading a university, I would be asking these and other questions of citizenship to focus institutional, research, and education agendas.
Will you come back and visit us?
Yes! Even better, I hope some of the people and expertise IonE has will contribute to building resilience in Minneapolis.