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Why resilience needs to be the norm for cities

Disaster relief

The concept of resilience needs to be at the heart of all planning if the aims of the New Urban Agenda are to be realised, argues Sachin Bhoite

The New Urban Agenda, a roadmap to sustainable urban development adopted at the Habitat III conference in Quito, recognises the importance of urban resilience. But there is much work to do to bring resilience ‘thinking and doing’ into the mainstream.

Arup held a workshop at Habitat III using our City Resilience Index, developed with support from the Rockefeller Foundation. The index helps planners and urbanists understand the factors that contribute to resilience and how they can be measured – shaping urban planning, investment and practice. Crucially, it provides cities with a practical way to deliver on the New Urban Agenda agreed at Habitat III.

Studying 28 cities over three years has helped us define what resilience is by rigorously understanding what factors contribute to resilience in cities. These are the same in all cities, although their relative importance in each city varies, owing to its specific development needs.

“In many developing countries systems to cope with rising youth populations need to be closely managed”

Cities can suddenly fail from exposure to external risks like flooding or epidemics, or slowly decline from inherent weaknesses, like lack of community cohesion or economic competitiveness. Resilience requires thinking beyond a city’s specific vulnerabilities. Crucially, we have found that it is as important to understand a city’s strengths as to understand its weaknesses. Strength in one area can make up for weakness in another.

For example, the strong cultural identity of New Orleans has played an key role in maintaining community cohesion and helping the city recover after floods. An analogy to our own health is useful here; our physical and mental health, economic circumstances, friends, life experience and education all help to maintain our sense of well-being when faced with sudden physical threats as well as in normal daily life.

Our world faces a rapidly rising urban population, along with increasing income inequality, bringing accumulating stresses. Some cities have ageing populations; others face the challenge of large youth populations.

The former, mainly seen in developed countries, will suffer additional stress to urban infrastructure like health services. In contrast, in many developing countries systems to cope with rising youth populations need to be closely managed by ensuring good education and fair employment. It is also vital to note that the consequent stresses are not felt equally by everyone; climate stresses, for example, are felt to a greater degree by the urban poor.
Planners can play a significant role in helping to make cities more resilient, by putting the theory and practice of resilience at the centre of all planning.

Sachin Bhoite is a senior consultant for Arup International Development

Photo | Shutterstock

Read more about Habitat III

UN Habitat III - A round-up



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