Building Resilience at the Metropolitan Scale: Key Insights from the Network

By Paul Nelson, Director of Network and Learning, 100 Resilient Cities

Last week, the city of Santiago de Chile hosted partners, Chief Resilience Officers and urban resilience experts from all around our network for our final Network Exchange of 2017: Building Resilience at the Metropolitan Scale.

Our discussions took place against the local backdrop of the passage of legislation outlining the powers of the new regional metropolitan authority in the capital and a presidential election that will ultimately shape the future regional leadership in Santiago — so there was a palpable energy and urgency around the exchange of ideas between Santiago leaders and our member cities and partners.

To paraphrase Intendente Claudio Orrego’s opening remarks, “Building metropolitan resilience is not a theoretical discussion; it’s a practical one grounded in the real management challenges the region faces — whether that’s water supply cuts or power outages that cripple the transit system.”

“Building metropolitan resilience is not a theoretical discussion; it’s a practical one grounded in the real management challenges the region faces — whether that’s water supply cuts or power outages that cripple the transit system.”
— Intendente Claudio Orrego

Some of the key themes and insights that emerged from our conversations and that were crystallized in an energizing final closing session with Intendente Orrego:

  • When building resilience at the metropolitan scale we need to find mechanisms to bring all stakeholders to the table: While cities have found ways to engage local stakeholders at the project-level (e.g when planning a park or revising local zoning), we do not have structures and channels to engage technical municipal staff, the public and political actors across multiple jurisdictions and agencies and on a more permanent basis to advance a metro-level approach to challenges.
  • While it may seem obvious to many of us in principle, land use planning and operationalization must be integrated with transportation, housing and environmental functions in order to create more equitable and human-centered cities. We saw first-hand how siloed implementation of ‘integrated plans’ at various jurisdictional levels can have deleterious unintended consequences for local communities.
  • Voluntary collaborations and agreements must be considered alongside more formal governance reform: Cities must do both in order to effectively build their resilience because governance reform can be a long, circuitous and uncertain road. Therefore, investing quality resources in successfully setting up and managing these informal collaborations is necessary to build new coordination functions and establish local advocates for metropolitan approaches.
  • There was a deep appreciation for the power of data and data sharing to better understand and manage challenges. However, data sharing is not a technical task — strategies for collaborating across various data owners, navigating their organizational cultures, and reaching consensus on approaches for data sharing, aggregating and reporting are needed in order to truly unlock its power and promise.
  • Financing and funding of metropolitan resilience projects will vary widely depending on the powers bestowed on municipalities by the state (e.g. ability to float municipal bonds, collect local taxes). Regardless of local context, however, cities need to consider the full range of options available to them from longer-term approaches like tax reform measures and devolution strategies to sources available now, be they impact fees, concessions revenues, cost-sharing strategies through collective purchasing, and more.
  • And finally, within a broader context of national discussions on the role of metropolitan governance mechanisms in Chile, the United Kingdom and other countries, we need to give up the notion that one size will fit all. A single governance model of assembled powers, levers and resources may not work across all metropolitan areas in a country because of differences in population share, local economic drivers and other key factors.

Our plan is to refine these themes with the nine member cities and coterie of experts who participated in the Exchange — and then build out each with the concrete tactics, approaches and opportunities sourced in Santiago, as well as with examples from across the Network and beyond, into a comprehensive handbook. In the coming months, we will be working closely with Gabriela Elgueta, the Chief Resilience Officer of Santiago de Chile, and her team to advance this work.