What does it take to build a resilient city?

We recently ran a livechat on the Guardian public leaders network, where our expert panellists discussed resilient cities. Some of the topics included:

  • What are the key ingredients for success in creating a more resilient city?
  • What is more important, resilient leadership and officers or the right infrastructure?
  • Which cities are leading the way in creating a more resilient environment for their citizens?

Here is a round-up of one of the biggest talking points – what are the fundamentals of creating a resilient city?

Strong and accountable local leadership

Leadership at the mayoral level is important to drive a culture of resilience from the top down, said Belinda Hewitt, a senior consultant with Arup International Development.

“This requires mayors to have a real understanding of the value of resilience, as well as the ability to communicate this clearly across city officials, private sector, and wider communities,” she explained. One example is Byblos in Lebanon, where the mayor has led public consultations on resilience with his constituents for the first time, informed by the 100 Resilient Cities programme.

Sarah Colenbrander, a researcher with the International Institute for Environment and Development added that resilient cities must have a municipal government that recognises basic rights and welcomes citizen engagement. This is not always the case for residents living in cities in the global south, where governments do not always prioritise investment in basic infrastructure for the poorest, preferring to develop commercial buildings and condominiums instead.

“There need to be systems to hold city governments accountable to their residents, and to give people influence over government decisions,” Colenbrander explained. “Cities in Brazil have done great work on this front with participatory budgeting, and cities in Uganda have piloted participatory monitoring and evaluation.”

Building social capital

Participatory budgeting, monitoring, and planning are all good ways for citizens to connect with government and start to be heard, said John Taylor, an urban planner working as the international project manager for UNDP’s National Urban Poverty Reduction Programme in Bangladesh. “To be resilient means really understanding the issues – like identifying the vulnerable – before being able to plan and respond to them,” he explained.

“What’s challenging is that every city has different characteristics of the poor and vulnerable, be it where the live, who they are, what they do, and many, especially in the developing world, might not even be officially accounted for,” he explained. As a result, city governments don’t always have a good handle on how big problems might be. 

Layla McCay, director of the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health, stressed that resilience cannot just be top-down, state-led: 

Foster partnerships to help with funding and accountability

But doesn’t building a resilient city require lots of funding? What can cash-strapped cities do about this?, asked one participant. Not all interventions to increase resilience are expensive – for example, strengthening social capital and good leadership need not be, pointed out McCay.

The resilience of a city can be strengthened whenever decisions or choices are made in a city about its future, and understanding the risks faced by a city. Kathryn Oldham, who heads up Greater Manchester’s Civil Contingencies and Resilience Unit, cited the choice of land for building new properties and the enforcement of effective building codes as examples.

With most cities facing budget constraints, a potential answer is private capital, said George Atalla, EY’s global leader for the Government & Public Sector group. Over the past couple of decades, there has been a rise in public-private partnerships, geared at infrastructure. “The attraction for governments is clear: lower capital expenditures, and better risk allocation to the private sector,” Atalla explained. And for the private sector, there is the potential of long term economic returns generated from underlying assets like a road, bridges or an airport, for example. 

He added:

But doesn’t building a resilient city require lots of funding? What can cash-strapped cities do about this?, asked one participant. Not all interventions to increase resilience are expensive – for example, strengthening social capital and good leadership need not be, pointed out McCay.

The resilience of a city can be strengthened whenever decisions or choices are made in a city about its future, and understanding the risks faced by a city. Kathryn Oldham, who heads up Greater Manchester’s Civil Contingencies and Resilience Unit, cited the choice of land for building new properties and the enforcement of effective building codes as examples.

With most cities facing budget constraints, a potential answer is private capital, said George Atalla, EY’s global leader for the Government & Public Sector group. Over the past couple of decades, there has been a rise in public-private partnerships, geared at infrastructure. “The attraction for governments is clear: lower capital expenditures, and better risk allocation to the private sector,” Atalla explained. And for the private sector, there is the potential of long term economic returns generated from underlying assets like a road, bridges or an airport, for example. 

He added:

A number of city networks were flagged throughout the discussion, including the Rockerfeller 100 Resilient Cities programme, ICLEI, C40 Citiesand UCLG. These are helping local governments to understand and plan for resilience, said Colenbrander. These networks have really supported cities to learn from each other through exchanges and seminars, so that success stories can be replicated at scale.

A city’s resilience should also be under regular review and scrutiny, said Oldham. She highlighted the UN’s Making Cities Resilient campaign – Greater Manchester has assessed itself against the campaign’s 10-point checklist for urban resilience.

Image: Hawa Mahal, Jaipur in India

Source: The Guardian

This article is culled from daily press coverage from around the world. It is posted on the Urban Gateway by way of keeping all users informed about matters of interest. The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and in no way reflects the opinion of UN-Habitat.