Cities Solutions Hub: Finding ideas that work

Strategizing urban improvements is a complex, highly customized process for city planning professionals. Within planning processes, there are key points of decision, some small, some large — all adding up to a multi-faceted set of decisions. These decisions then inform a series of actions, projects, and initiatives in the urban environment.

Software has enabled city planners to keep track of increasing amounts and types of data, while the Internet has allowed for exchange of ideas and best practices internationally. However, it may still be difficult for a city planner to find out about all the software available to complete a certain task or all the data sets that may be brought to bear. Many tools and resources are still found primarily through peer exchange and word of mouth. On the less technology-centric side, processes and methods may also remain obscure due to lack of a central repository. The infrastructure for information and knowledge exchange for city solutions on a large scale is still lacking, even in this era of information and technology.

The Resilience Exchange is an online platform where people share information about social change tools, methods, and tactics. “Resilience is the capacity of individuals, communities and systems to survive, adapt, and grow in the face of stress and shocks, and even transform when conditions require it.” The idea for the platform took root from the fear of losing valuable information about successful solutions to social change — topics ranging from challenges for small-scale fisheries to deforestation problems and farming in increasingly drier climates. The creators of the Resilience Exchange realized another focus area was critical — cities. With more than 50% of the global population now living in urban areas, and with that figure on the rise, resilience challenges will be increasingly faced head-on in cities. This need fostered the creation of the Cities Solutions Hub (CSH) within the Resilience Exchange.

The CSH has a range of “solution” types, currently broken down into the following four (4) functions: 1) tools for subjects characterized by interconnectivity and interdependency on many issues (i.e., urban blight, affordable housing, transit oriented development, public health, water security, and land/transportation/economy/environment interconnectivity), 2) case studies on applying highly innovative approaches (i.e., systems dynamics for projects, scenario planning for comprehensive plans, and “alternative futures” and “strategic foresight” application to planning processes), 3) tactics used to address specific problems (i.e., climate change adaptation, equity-focused outcomes, and air pollution reduction through transportation interventions), and 4) tools that help support functions 1–3 (i.e., tools to locate data, facilitate community input data collection, and creation of performance measurement frameworks and dashboards).

Rather than rely only on the solution content, the Resilience Exchange also has community features. Once an interesting solution has been located, the creator or contributor of the solution can be contacted through the platform to provide more detailed information. Users can place multiple solutions on a “board” to compile them in one place to share. A user can also create their own solutions, sharing past experiences with others. In this way, the platform becomes much more than a repository — it is a place where ideas, experiences, and lessons learned are shared openly in the spirit of not reinventing the wheel.