Conference provides El Paso opportunity to discuss resiliency
15 Nov 2014
By: Jose Rodriguez
In 2013, El Paso was selected as one of the first 32 cities in the Rockefeller Foundation's 100 Resilient Cities program.
The goal of the program is to develop a plan to ensure our great city can endure — and thrive — regardless of any future adversity.
Certainly El Paso faces adversity, whether it is environmental, such as scarce water, flash-flooding, and contamination of air and soil; or social, such as poor access to health care or affordable housing, and limited economic opportunity.
But with adversity comes opportunity.
From our native soil emerges community and governmental leaders who recognize these challenges for what they are: an opportunity to be innovative, learn from what other communities are doing, and take strategic, calculated risks.
In that spirit and in cooperation with many of these leaders, my office and the U.S. Green Building Council Chihuahuan Desert Chapter co-hosted the two-day GRO El Paso conference.
GRO, which stands for "Growth, Resilience, Opportunity," provided a forum for community leaders to discuss practical sustainability and resiliency policies for El Paso.
The first day consisted of panel discussions on such topics as water and energy resource management, transportation infrastructure and sustainable building practices. Day two, a free community celebration at Memorial Park, featured vendor booths, and green living workshops and exhibits.
The conference built upon the actions of the city of El Paso, which this summer convened a first meeting of Resilient Cities advisors that included more than 60 regional stakeholders. They focused on the city's strengths and weaknesses in the areas of economic development, sustainability, education, and health care. The meeting was successful in generating useful data to inform an initial resiliency strategy for El Paso.
The GRO El Paso conference attempted to expand the number of voices invested in the city's resiliency plan to include local nonprofits, trade and labor organizations, faith-based groups, educators, health professionals, and business leaders. The biggest challenge in any city becoming more resilient is recognizing that a community is made up of multiple complex overlapping systems—like a tangled root ball. The key is to coordinate those talents toward a common plan.
I commend the city of El Paso and GRO conference attendees for the seriousness with which they're approaching the Rockefeller challenge. I look forward to supporting their efforts at the state level.
This upcoming legislative session, I intend to advance legislation that will keep El Paso strong, including investing in our public schools and finding a Texas solution that will improve access to health care for more than 6 million Texans.
I will also advocate for increased investment in our state's higher education institutions and for the passage of long-overdue tuition revenue bonds for UTEP and Texas Tech.
I'll continue to promote the growth of transportation options, and to increase the important social and economic connectivity of our communities on both sides of the border. Finally, I'll make it a goal that West Texas becomes the nation's leader in renewable energy, especially solar.
The Paso del Norte region is poised to grow by leaps and bounds, and it will take the commitment of our community's leaders and its leading institutions to guide that growth so that our impact on the natural environment does not overwhelm our beautiful high desert ecology.
I am confident we can maintain economic growth while promoting a sustainable, high-quality built environment, and maintain a region in which our children and grandchildren can plan a future for their children and grandchildren.
This will only be possible with the continued community support such as that on display at GRO El Paso. I am confident that the conference provided some common ground in which a more vibrant El Paso can take root.
José Rodríguez is chairman of the Senate Hispanic Caucus and represents Texas Senate District 29, which includes the counties of El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, and Presidio.