Meet Eric Friedlander, chief resilience officer at the Louisville Metro Office of Resilience and Community Services




Hometown: Louisville
Family: My wife, Indigo, three dogs and three cats.
Hobbies: Photography and singing
Currently reading: The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (Liveright, 2017)
Most grateful for: How fortunate I have been over my career and for the many great friend I have made.
Your motto: Don’t postpone joy.

Medical News: How did you end up being chief resilience officer in Louisville?

Eric Friedlander: In early 2017, while serving as the director of the Department for Community Services for Metro Louisville, I attended an agenda setting workshop led by 100 Resilient Cities with a broad range of over 200 stakeholders. I was very intrigued by this experience.

The work of resilience in Louisville seemed like it might have a little different flavor than some of the other cities in the network. The attendees at this workshop identified the expected things like extreme weather and aging infrastructure, but also economic and environmental challenges. It was in these areas that education, health and equality were identified. I was interested in the intersection of these issues and how we might go about addressing them locally.  In April 2017, I was appointed by Mayor Greg Fischer as our city’s first chief resilience officer.

MN: What is it like?

EF: I’ve had a lot to learn. This work has, so far, been about the identification of the intersectionality of resilience. I have been involved in discussions around equitable economic development, racial equity, homelessness, sustainability, environment (trees, weather, solar, Air Louisville) and infrastructure (Metropolitan Sewer District in particular).

My primary goal at this point is to get feedback from the community so we can have confidence that we are working on what our community has identified as most important. I hope that through this work, that once these areas are identified, we can together outline a process and implementation strategy to impact these issues to bring community-based solutions to the issues identified.

A great benefit to being in the 100 Resilient Cities network is that we have the opportunity to bring in leading world experts to help us identify solutions. These solutions should focus not only on the overall community, but must begin with the individual, through the neighborhood, to the larger business and Metro community as a whole. Solutions have to speak to what we can do to provide way to strengthen each of us individually, to how we translate that to overall policy for all of Metro Louisville.

MN: How was Louisville chosen as one of 100 Resilient Cities by the Rockefeller Foundation?

EF: Louisville had to apply to be one of the 100 Resilient Cities. It is quite an honor to be named to this network. There are only 100 cities across the world that have been selected. We were selected in the last year of the three-year acceptance process. Louisville was selected because of Mayor Fischer. His emphasis on both data driven decision making and compassion set Louisville apart from other cities. The transparency of city information and the drive for innovation made our proposal attractive to the reviewers.

MN: How do you collaborate with Louisville’s chief equity officer, Kelly Watson?

EF: We collaborate on a daily basis. I am a part of Louisville’s “Racial Equity Here” team. A large part of the resilience work needs to focus on how we make all Louisvillians stronger and more resilient. We, as a community, will only gain resilience as we learn that no matter who we are or where we are from, we are one Louisville.

It has struck me that when disasters occur, labels are made irrelevant as communities support each other no matter what our past differences may have been. Why does it take a disaster for us to recognize this?  When I present to groups about resilience I use information from our Redlining Report, Health Equity Report and the documents concerning Louisville’s history to try to help us think about what we can do to address issues of race as it related to the intersectionality of resilience.

MN: What do you consider your greatest achievement so far?

EF: Assembling the internal Louisville Metro team from multiple departments to help address the process set out by 100 Resilient Cities. There is also a Steering Committee of quite diverse individuals (no one from Metro government) from all across Metro Louisville.

Through this work, there have already been numerous insights that are leading to greater collaboration and understanding.  Many of the current issues and initiative can benefit from the recognition of the important and sometimes unrecognized intersections that can be supportive of progress as a community: how food insecurity and green infrastructure relate to population health outcomes; how homelessness and behavioral health tie to transportation, employment and economic development; and how disaster preparedness can relate to community values.

Food insecurity and green infrastructure relate to population health outcomes; homelessness and behavioral health tie to transportation, employment and economic development; and disaster preparedness can relate to community values.

MN: What has been the most challenging part of your job?

EF: Because resilience is such a broad and all-encompassing concept, I had a lot to learn about those areas where I had less experience. I am the first chief resilience officer who does not have a background in disaster preparedness or city planning.

My background is in health and human services. I worked for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services for 30 years. This is a different perspective than most all of my colleagues in the 100 Resilient Cities network. I tend to focus on those chronic stresses in a community that make the inevitable acute shock or disaster worse, as opposed to the disaster revealing the underlying stressors. This has led to some communication and translation challenges that have caused me to take some extra time to gain perspective and understanding of the process outlined for all the 100 Resilient Cities.

MN: Tell me about your first job out of college.

EF: My first job out of college was a very brief stint in construction. I worked on the façade of the former Rudyard Kipling on Oak Street in Louisville. I overcame my fear of heights and climbed three stories of scaffolding and painted the cornice of the building. I appreciated the motivation to overcome an irrational fear.

MN: What were some lessons you learned from mentors?

EF: It is a bit of a hard lesson, but I had a boss who always said, “It is easy to be right, but if you can’t tell me how to get there, it doesn’t matter.” Her meaning was, if you can’t map your way through a process, be it logistical or political, that can get you to where you say you want to go, you may need to accept that you need another goal (no matter how right you feel you are).

I’ve also learned the consequence of not being open and transparent. If you cannot show your work, you only breed distrust.

MN: What is your very best skill — the thing that sets you apart from others?

EF: I like to say my only two skills are my firm grasp of the obvious and my ability to recognize someone else’s good idea. I hope I also approach most situations with an open mind.

MN: Where do you do your best thinking?

EF: I believe my best thinking comes early in the morning before the events of the day. I need time to process new and or challenging information. A little quiet and space always helps me better evaluate how to act on information and situations that are presented.