on Mar 08, 2018
Mayors Helping Mayors Rebuild Puerto Rico
In the aftermath of a vicious hurricane season, the island of Puerto Rico continues to endure a vast humanitarian crisis. An estimated $95 billion in damage has displaced nearly 1.1 million Puerto Ricans from their homes, accelerated ongoing mass migration to the mainland United States, and driven Puerto Rico further into social, political, and economic uncertainty.
In the absence of reliable and sustained state and federal assistance, the island’s municipalities have led the local response to the crisis. This period of long-term disaster recovery marked by regular power and water outages, and ever-changing federal and state guidance on requests for assistance – is also marked by extreme shortfalls in municipal revenues. Puerto Rico’s debt crisis, which predates the 2017 hurricane season but was compounded by it, has left its cities with an estimated $350 million budget shortfall that is expected to grow in the coming fiscal year.
Still, mayors across the island must both address the immediate needs of the residents of their cities while also addressing their long-term physical and economic development priorities. They are tasked with responding to ongoing humanitarian needs while developing a future vision for their cities and their local economies. And, they too often do so in isolation.
A New Model for Partnership
To support mayors on the frontlines, HR&A is assisting Open Society Foundations’ launch of a first-of-its-kind mayoral exchange pairing mayors from Puerto Rico with mayors from the mainland United States to exchange ideas and lessons from their own disaster recovery efforts.
The exchange provides peer-to-peer disaster recovery and strategic planning support to Puerto Rican cities, and will help raise the profile of the crisis facing the island on the mainland. It also enables mainland mayors to build long-term relationships with their Puerto Rican counterparts, as they learn about the innovative ways in they’ve lead relief and recovery efforts under extreme fiscal and political pressure. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu is chairing the Mayor Exchange, along with Puerto Rico Mayors Pedro García Figueroa of Hormigueros and Javier Jiménez Pérez of San Sebastián and Open Society Foundations President Patrick Gaspard.
“WHEN NEW ORLEANS HAS BEEN IN NEED AFTER DEVASTATION, PEOPLE FROM ALL OVER HAVE HELPED LIFT US BACK UP. THIS MAYOR EXCHANGE ALLOWS US AND OTHER CITIES AROUND THE COUNTRY TO RETURN THE FAVOR. WE ARE EAGER TO DO WHAT WE CAN TO LEAN FORWARD AND HELP OUR NEIGHBORS STAND BACK UP. SHARING OUR PATH TO RECOVERY IS AN IMPORTANT STEP WE CAN TAKE TO MAKE EVERY CITY MORE RESILIENT IN THE FACE OF DISASTERS.”
– Mayor Mitch Landrieu
Lessons from Our Own Recovery
As disasters become more frequent and severe, cities are learning to deal with the complexities and challenges of recovery. Mayors from New Orleans, Miami, and Houston, to name a few, have gained valuable first-hand experience through the intricate process of rebuilding while planning for a new reality with more frequent and more devastating storm events.
To fulfill the vision of the Open Society Foundations and Mayor Landrieu, HR&A leveraged its experience in resilience planning and program design to design a two-part program:
- A mayor exchange
- In-depth technical assistance workshops focused on disaster recovery, fiscal health, and economic development.
Mayors on the mainland will meet their Puerto Rican counterparts through visits to the island and provide information on accessing recovery assistance, and consultation on humanitarian, fiscal, and rebuilding challenges. By the end of this program, mayors of Puerto Rico will have the most relevant knowledge of policy, planning, and finance tools to aid their local recovery efforts, with the added benefit of a network of mayors advocating for Puerto Rico’s recovery on a national stage.
The Power of Governance
HR&A designs and delivers programs to build knowledge and capacity for real government practice change. We leverage partnerships to tackle a wide range of urban challenges, from population growth and potential displacement, to the impacts of climate change. Our strong project management skills, policy development leadership, and in-depth knowledge of government enable us to provide the best advisory services to support government decision-making.
If you are a city leader or influencer in search of strategic support to develop a long-term economic development vision and strategy for your city, we’d like to hear from you. To learn more about how we can help convert your city’s challenges into opportunities to create an equitable future, email Andrea Batista Schlesinger.