Former state Rep. Knuth takes Chief Resilience Officer position

Former state Rep. Kate Knuth will be Minneapolis' new Chief Resilience Officer, a position developed by the New York-based Rockefeller Foundation. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Kate Knuth’s education has centered around biology and conservation. Her career has centered around her home state of Minnesota.

She’ll get to apply the former to help the latter in her new job as chief resilience officer of Minneapolis.

Knuth, a former state representative who’s spent years studying biology and conservation, assumed the new job earlier this month. The position aims to help the city prepare for challenges such as natural disasters, climate change and aging infrastructure, among others.

Knuth said in a June 7 interview that she’s excited to connect more deeply with Minneapolis, get to know the city’s people and see how various parts of the government work. She said she envisioned her first few weeks would involve a lot of meeting people, listening, reading and learning more about the city.

“Frankly, I see this job as a lot of relationships and listening and connecting with people and groups,” Knuth said. “Relationships are a huge part of resilience, and I think they’ll be a huge part of this job.”

Eventually, Knuth will lead the development of a strategy for improving the city’s resilience to the aforementioned challenges. Much of this work is already happening in Minneapolis, from areas such as surface water to energy use, but her position will take a higher-up approach so the different silos can work together, Media Relations Coordinator Casper Hill said.

100 Resilient Cities

Knuth’s position is part of an effort the by New York-based Rockefeller Foundation to help cities around the world become better prepared for climate change, natural disasters and other challenges they could face in coming years.

The foundation is underwriting the CRO position in 100 cities around the world and helping them develop technical plans and creative infrastructure financing to become more resilient, former President Judith Rodin said in a 2013 video. It has called the program 100 Resilient Cities and has committed $164 million to it.

The foundation pays for each participating city’s CRO for two years and potentially three. That person is supposed to work across government departments to help cities improve internal communication, bring together stakeholders and lead the development of a resilience strategy.

Knuth stressed that building that strategy in Minneapolis wouldn’t be a solo process, noting that it will be developed in partnership with the people of the city. She said she hopes to help people realize that change, though it can be hard, can create opportunities.

She wasn’t quite ready to give specific examples of things on which the city could work but said she’ll be asking the question, “how can resources be brought to bare to make that work even better?”

“There’s so many people who are working really hard to try and make the city work for everyone,” she said. “Minneapolis has a lot of fantastic work happening, and I want to contribute to that.”

Biology background

Knuth said she was always interested in the natural world and figuring out how things work. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology-related fields, from the University of Chicago and University of Oxford, respectively. In addition, she studied the Norwegian oil industry and environmental culture as a Fulbright Fellow and was an environmental entrepreneur fellow at Hamline University. She’s currently a University of Minnesota Ph.D. candidate in conservation science.

Knuth served in the Legislature from 2007-12, representing New Brighton, Arden Hills, Fridley and Shoreview. She now serves on the state’s Environmental Quality Board, which works to develop plans and review projects that would influence Minnesota’s environment.

As CRO, Knuth said she’s looking forward to getting to better know Minneapolis, its neighborhoods and the people in them.

“I want the people in Minneapolis to be engaged in this work and not just engaged but excited about the possibility of it,” she said. “So I’m looking forward to connecting.”

One thing of which residents can be sure: They will see Knuth wearing some sort of orange, a color she’s worn every day since high school.

“It’s a great color,” she said. “I don’t have a better thing for it other than it’s my favorite color and it makes me happy, so I wear it every day.”