Resilient Cities — the frontier of the future

A sharing of knowledge, skills and outlooks are key tools in helping emerging cities cope with the challenges of rapid growth.

The Beam
The Beam
Jan 17, 2018 · 4 min read

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Key Facts

  • 54%: The percentage of the world’s population living in urban areas, as of 2014
  • 1.4 billion: The number of people living in cities that are at high risk of exposure to a natural disaster (cyclone, flood, drought, earthquake, landslide or volcanic eruption)
  • $380 billion: The estimated cost of natural disasters in 2011

For most of humanity’s long and illustrious history, people predominantly lived in rural areas, but a few centuries ago the tide began to turn towards urbanisation. Economic developments starting around the 19th century have attracted ever increasing numbers of people to live in towns and cities, and we have now reached a tipping point. As of 2007, more than half of the global population live in urban areas. It’s an upward trend that shows no signs of abating — by 2050 it is estimated that an incredible 66% of people will be living in urban areas.

As more and more people are attracted to live in towns cities, it presents a multitude of challenges, especially for large cities. Natural disasters can have devastating effects — cyclones, earthquakes, floods, drought, landslides and volcanic eruptions are all dangers for the inhabitants of a huge number of cities. The UN World Cities Report puts the number of people living in cities that are considered at high risk of exposure to such a natural disaster as 1.4 billion. Climate change is increasing the frequency of natural disasters and extreme weather events. The three hurricanes that hit the US and the Caribbean in September of 2017 are an example of the devastating impact that weather can have on cities.

It isn’t just natural disasters that are a threat to urban areas. As populations grow in size, the resources needed to sustain them become more stretched and strained. Supplying energy, food, transport, healthcare, employment and more are all ongoing concerns, especially for cities that are growing exponentially in size.

In order for cities to thrive and survive, it is becoming increasingly important to take into account and consider how ‘resilient’ they are, and how the concept of resilience can be understood and applied to the development of cities.

Copyrights: Andre Benz

Withstanding shocks and stresses

Resilience can be defined as the ability of a city’s economic, social, political and infrastructure systems to absorb and recover from shocks and stresses and still retain their basic functions, structures and identity. Natural disasters and terrorist attacks are examples of shocks, whereas stresses can be issues such as food shortages, high unemployment and an overstretched transport system.

The importance of making cities more resilient is enshrined in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal. The 11th SDG is to ‘make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’. This is of key importance for the developing world. Cities are developing rapidly in areas of Africa, China and Nigeria, for example. A sharing of knowledge, skills and outlooks are key tools in helping emerging cities cope with the challenges of rapid growth.

As resilience is a broad and wide ranging concept, no two cases will be exactly alike, but there are opportunities to learn from each one. The 100 Resilient Cities project aims to address the question of how we can help cities increase their resilience by funding a Chief Resilience Officer for 100 different cities. These CROs receive logistical guidance and support to develop resilience strategies that are tailored to the specific needs of the their urban area, and gain access to services to assist in the implementation of the strategies. Through this initiative a network of cities is being formed that can share knowledge with each other and improve best practice.

The results of the scheme are still emerging. We can expect future years to reveal telling data about how best to manage the growth of cities and what initiatives can be applied to different areas. How can we best make use of a local food supply? What flood protections work best for coastal cities? What systems and technology can developing cities employ to provide early warnings for earthquakes? The questions of how we can improve life in cities and make them more resilient are almost endless. Given that in the future the vast majority of people will be living this way, they are also questions that we need to keep answering now.

Further Reading and Resources:

This series of articles has been prepared with the support of our partner Viessmann — they’re celebrating 100 years of their company this year (2017) and are actively involved in positively shaping the next 100 years.

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