Cities of the future are resilient: it’s all about the fine print

Melbourne takes the initiative and creates a first-in-Australia resilience strategy: what does that mean for other cities and towns?

There are cities and there are cities.  Comparing cities is rarely particularly meaningful.  Even so, we like to do it and we like rankings and categories and all kinds of things that make distinctions about cities.  But I am not convinced these classifications stand up to much of their claims.  While rankings can be an interesting and revealing read; from the ‘best cities’ rankings like these produced by the Intelligence Unit at The Economist, to rankings that the National League of Cities (USA) produces, through to rankings such as the Quality of Living Rankings by Mercer and many others, the simple fact is that cities each have unique histories and did not start life as part of some formal competition.  I love Paris and so do millions of other people.  Apparently over 30 million visitors per year feel the same attraction.  But then there are other places too which are easy to like.  Ranking, categorising, benchmarking, and sorting cities into categories makes sense in that we make sense of the world by using some forms of sorting information.

Urban food growing is part of the city future:  like this Pop Up Veggie Patch in Melbourne.  Photo: Yellen

Urban food growing is part of the city future: like this Pop Up Veggie Patch in Melbourne.
Photo: Yellen

However, looking into the merits of categories we apply to cities, we do see value when the criteria is very specific.  Like city resilience, borne out of the 100 Resilient Cities initiative pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation.  No need to further applaud the initiative as its smart idea has been praised abundantly over the few years since its launch.  In a decade’s time its true value will become even clearer given the economic, socio-economic, political and environmental impact it will have globally.

It is now very clear that the network of 100 cities which took initiative to compete for the 1 million dollars in funding awarded by the Rockefeller Foundation in what has proved to be highly competitive process, will reap massive returns on their outlay.  Frankly, it is hard to find a better investment.  One million dollars is not a large amount for a lot of cities that have become part of the network.  However, in using the funding smartly to craft a resilience strategy for their cities they have created conditions for business investment that previously were not there.  There is an ever increasing demand on business globally to be smart when investing by considering factors that make cities both vulnerable and resilient.  Cities that make an effort to be resilient by being specific and transparent can add a lot of competitive advantage.

And that is the key to a resilient city strategy.  Making a city, and its people, better prepared to cope and recover from a diverse range of disruptive forces provides confidence to anyone who wants to visit or do business with it.  Cities that do things with resilience in mind will also lower the cost of business and living in general.  That is why the recent launch of Resilient Melbourne is significant in Australia.  Sydney will follow next year with its own resilience strategy.  And that is as far as it goes in Australia.  No other city has been successful in joining the global network.

Other cities would be naive to sit and wait for another opportunity to get funding to kick-start a resilience program. However there is an opportunity now for other Australian cities to take the initiative and join the global movement by investing in resilience.  They could talk to Melbourne and Sydney and learn from them.  This is not just about capital cities.  Far from it.  Many cities in the 100 Resilient Cities network are small regional centres that displayed the same quality of vision as the administrators of mega cities such as of New York.  The first city in Europe that designed a city resilience strategy is a small Danish town called Vejle – it is the size of Port Phillip.  .

Obviously the Rockefeller Foundation grasped the importance of creating a network that is not only about big and powerful cities.  The idea is to create a culture of resilience globally where every city, regardless of its size, thinks about its future differently.  Resilience is about the long term prosperity of a city and as such is difficult to implement.  The long term game though is vital for cities that want to be relevant.  This is important for a whole host of reasons; the most obvious being the fact that humankind now lives predominantly in urban environments.  The city is the principle place of economic and social development.  As the Brookings Institute points out, between 2000 and 2013 the majority (almost 60pc) of jobs created in the OECD space were in metropolitan areas.  This fact alone tells us a lot: cities will grow and with that comes pressure.  It is against that background that cities have to integrate resilience; not like some kind of rescue plan when things go wrong, but as part of city culture.  Residents of any city must feel that they have what it takes to be resilient despite inevitable disruptions; be they natural disasters, public health or a cyber related disruptions, socio-economic disturbances borne out of a lack of inclusiveness and equality, or economically driven crises.  As Judith Rodin, the CEO of Rockefeller Foundation, says in her book The Resilience Dividend; “when cities and populations are overburdened, chronic stressors grow and can reach a tipping or a crisis point”.  This reminds me a bit of the fine print on the prominent TV advertisement for a super fund here in Australia which states in the fine print that its past performance is not an indicator of its future performance.  City resilience is about the fine print.  City leaders entrusted to guide cities need to engage with people and craft a future where prosperity is measured not in numbers of skyscrapers alone.


Resilience in Context: the urban and the workplace

By Dr Peter Rogers

In my previous post to the resilience reporter I flagged up some common themes. I also gestured towards the use of feedback from resilience-related projects in which I and others from the GRC are engaged. This is an ongoing effort to try and link research with practice in a public commentary on building resilience. It is not enough to be working with a definition. We’ve established that the definition of resilience necessarily changes depending on the point of view from which the concept is approached. This means there are as many types of resilience as there are areas of interest, the definition is one of alignment to the needs of the user. And, I have to be honest here, this also means that there is as much ‘bad’ as there is ‘good’ out there as a result of what we have called the ‘polysemic’ nature of resilience. The term MAY fall out of favour, it may be misused (and in some cases already HAS been misused). Much of the usefulness of the idea in future will depend on which version of resilience, on which trajectory of meaning-making gains ascendency during the roll out of resilience practice in different contexts. To try and flesh this problem out a bit more I will flag up a couple of these issues here.

We know that change can be difficult, even painful, in any entrenched system. Too often the political capital to enact sweeping reform is too costly and those tasked with governing dare not take the risk. It may seem easier to protect the status quo and to conduct our governance much as we always have, following the well-trodden path and allowing the inertia born of our momentum to drive us onwards. The thing is, just because something has always been done that way does not mean that the established way of thinking, doing or acting is the best one. Those engaged in the interminable negotiation over project and funding, the grinding cycle of grant or project applications and the conformance culture of evaluation and reporting using the same tools again and again will tell you that as much as these factors ensure a minimum standard of quality at low risk they also stymie innovation and limit the possibilities of what can be achieved by being more adaptive, more flexible. One may understand that such benchmarked practices can be useful in certain circumstance, but as universal rules they create as many problems as they solve. Such tools are rigid and undermine progress towards meaningful resilience. From a more scholarly perspective we might say that the lack of general resilience in the most neoliberal alignments of democracy at fault here – but that is perhaps a discussion for elsewhere. Here and now, in terms of the potential to change our complex systems of governing through resilience thinking and practice, there is so much more we can discuss.

Around the world efforts are ongoing to try and incorporate resilience into white papers and strategic frameworks as a means of giving practitioners and politicians alike a point of departure in doing resilience for real; to my mind these too often smack of rhetoric – especially when the fine-grain is pulled back and we look into what the those key players are actually DOING differently, which is too often not much at all. Resilience is more than a rebranding of environmental management, sustainable development, climate mitigation or adaption or any other policy space that has become overly contested or ‘stuck in the mud’. Despite the critics, I do not believe that resilience is being used as an excuse increase the distance between citizens and their representatives, or to pass the buck for dealing with disasters onto citizens. Rights come with responsibilities and that has always been the way in democracy. One can even argue that a greater distance between the professional politician and the citizen is actually useful for the empowerment of local communities – another of the more uncomfortable unresolved tensions in resilience thinking. All the while the main players soldier on, doing good work, not-so-good work and on the odd occasion down-right bad work. One can argue that the most interesting and progressive attempts to build resilience into the way we organise our world are coming from the non-governmental and third sector more generally, and identifying which players are proactively changing the rules of the game is an important feature of documenting the positive possibilities of real world resilience.

unsdrI will give you a couple of examples, very briefly, of two programmes which have helped seed some interesting changes through the resilience concept. The UNISDR ‘Making Cities Resilient’ campaign is perhaps the biggest programme in the world today and alongside the Rockefeller Foundations ‘100 resilient cities’ campaign these two programs have been driving real change through the milieu of urbanism. Perhaps in both cases it is the appreciation that local context and local people need to be a key driver of developing a resilience strategy for the city that sets them apart from more nationally focussed government discussions, typical of national strategy documents. One might say that this sounds much the same as any white paper on community resilience you might encounter, but there are significant differences in the way such work is being undertaken. Bringing local expertise and knowledge into the fold is not here being championed through entrenched methodologies of lip-service consultations, producing documents for councillors or department heads which never again see the light of day. Here the work of governance is often focussed on the benefit of a more direct form of democratic engagement.

UNISDR work spans the globe, but in Manchester, England has a long history of dealing with disaster events from the IRA bombings to floods and foot and mouth throughout the rollout of Civil Contingencies legislation the North West region has skin in the game of being prepared. A dedicated ‘civil contingencies and resilience unit’ coordinate work with a host of agencies to build resilience across ecological, technological or industrial risks. With these areas of what might be considered traditional disasters well-grounded they are also now looking at the social, economic and other human system based dangers that might be strengthened, including aspects of urban greening, sustainable design and community engagement in these practice to build trust and deepen the connections that underlie a strong and healthy community. This has not gone unacknowledged and Manchester has long since been heralded as a role model for total resilience.

The importance of local context cannot be overstressed when looking at resilience. For example the Rockefeller funded resilience team in Porto Allegre, Brazil have a long history in participatory budgeting, using the 100 resilient cities money to enhance and expand on this they have created a strategy that emphasises the lessons learned over time. This creates an evidence base of best practice locally to help coordination of future local projects. It is a local strategy therefore it does not prescribe the way of working in a professional standard, rather creates a case study of the possible which other cities can reflect on. In Bristol in the UK there is strong history of energy and waste efficiency which is now being expanded into a ‘future proofing’ goal to deal with a range of challenges, including social, ecological, economic challenges as well as human well-being and quality of life. Each Rockefeller resilient city engages the funded position of Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) with a nuanced focus relevant to the local context, though the long-term impact of such work remains uncertain it has significantly raised the profile of resilience thinking and many CRO’s have become arbiters of change within their host organisations. Through Rockefeller this has also created a network of CRO’s with annual meetings to help share expertise and build the exchanges of information across these local contexts that facilitate a broader translation of lessons learned into the local contexts of each agent.

Most importantly in these examples, taken from two continents, there is a drive amongst those engaged in the work to seek out new ways of governing. Central to this is the need to deepen collaboration with the local population throughout the process, moving from services delivered by experts to services in which the local community have a direct stake and active role. By encouraging a more permeable interface between the vertical hierarchy of expert services and the flattened network of community members information flows much better and trust is built between all participants. In times of stress or shock these relationships are invaluable for increased resilience, but they also facilitate a longer term improvement in the quality of life of all those involved. Beyond the development of a resilience strategy which sits underneath Rockefeller investment there is a drive to leave trails of change in the everyday lives of local inhabitants which change the way in which the locale is governed. This gives those of us advocating change much to think about in exploring the right kind of change and where to best place the lens with which resilient thinking is drawn into clearer focus, thus informing the potential of more resilient practice for the future.

Peter Rogers is a Senior Lecturer in the Sociology of Law at Macquarie University. He is the former Co-Director of Climate Futures research centre at Macquarie University and author of two books on urban resilience.

Designing City Resilience summit to be held in June 16 and 17 in London

 City and resilience have now become inextricably linked.  City without resilience does not make sense and vice versa.  From Global Resilience Collaborative’s perspective the two day summit on city and resilience, which is coincides with London Festival of Architecture in June 2015 is a reassuring sign that resilience is taken seriously. It is with that in mind that we share the news of the upcoming summit.   


designing city resilienceGlobal experts speaking at this year’s Designing City Resilience summit will call for more collaboration between city leaders and professionals from a wide range of sectors, plus improved citizen engagement, to ensure cities prosper and become more resilient…

Collaboration and city resilience

By Jelenko Dragisic, Founder – Global Resilience Collaborative

The past decade has ushered in an era of resilience and collaboration as two pillars upon which the future of a city’s capacity to flourish may increasingly be dependent. The emergence of disruptive forces, be they technological, cultural, political or natural, has created an opportunity for an entrepreneurial approach to city flourishing. The key lies in re-imagining the city on the basis of its capacity to reformulate itself as a collaborative system well placed to manage disruption, and allows it to continue to grow. Resilience must be crafted around a collaborative strategy.


Disaster resilience is a multifaceted challenge, but it should not deter citizens from trying to engage with its complexity. Small, simple steps can make a huge difference. Engaging with disasters via a resilience platform is about innovation in the face of disruption. Resilience building is in part about re-imagining cities as collaborative systems that allow for balanced flourishing, whereby multiple factors are integrated into city life. The notion of a collaborative city as the backbone of a resilient city should be considered in the light of future scenarios where cities need to balance economic, social and environmental factors in equal measure. Information, knowledge and belief in self-action leads people to understand their own capacity as a resource that can be converted into social capital of immense value. It is of critical importance that serious attention be paid to some limitations of the disaster resilience narrative. The strong responses by global communities to resilience programs is a vital indication that the community does not see resilience-building as being the same thing as disaster management (or disaster mitigation as some prefer to call it). The links between disaster management and disaster resilience may be obvious and are, in fact, real and should be maintained. However, resilience-building goes beyond disaster management. Its main concern cannot only be the ability of a community to bounce back. The real test lies in the ability of an individual, community or business to continue to grow. Attempting, as a seemingly logical goal, to go back to ‘normal’ is not what resilience-building should settle for. Resilience-building has to work as an interlocking strategy, ensuring that all areas of work are done in tandem and support the collective effort; an effort that can successfully bring about a level of cooperation and collaboration between individuals, the local community, local, state and federal governments, big business and other institutions such as churches, universities etc., that can perhaps be described as ‘super-cooperation’. Could it be that Enterprise Architecture (EA) is the tool that can offer the systematic language of collaborative governance needed for a complex partnership to work effectively towards a culture of resilience? How could EA offer a language-based strategy for building disaster resilience? The answer lies partly in the premise that resilience is not possible unless there is ‘buy in’ from all ‘parties’, using the bottom up approach. Collaboration is a strategy in itself. While partnerships are nothing new, in the case of disaster resilience-building collaborations are very complex because of the diverse range of partners and the roles each can and should play. EA with its well established structural language, protocols and standards, can add value. One of the key impacts of this approach is formation of new ground for a different way to deal with disasters. This would guide the narrative of disaster management closer to everyday life; something that people can relate to. With a stable language we have the potential to deal with disasters with more nerve and order and with less hype and spontaneity. The result can be a higher likelihood of an increase in the number of parties that are stable and persistently involved in disaster resilience-building. This is one of the most critical impacts the disaster resilience strategy can achieve; a shift to the culture of resilience. Disasters are complex, semi-permanent situations which require major effort. Governments are not equipped, nor in fact best placed to deal with disasters alone. Additionally, governments cannot be expected to provide exclusive leadership in disaster resilience-building. While those factors are detrimental in the current situation with EA as a basis, a new, more sustainable approach could emerge that brings a larger degree of participation in the form of resources from multiple parties. Effective consideration of the role Enterprise Architecture could perform in transitioning the present situation to a new collaborative framework requires a detailed understanding of the current state of play. Consideration should be given to the fact that current understanding of disaster management is not as clear cut as it may have been a decade ago. One major factor is the emergence of a global consensus that resilience has to be enhanced in order to make response to major disasters sustainable. Considering the global cost of disasters (US$380 billion in the year 2011 alone) it is vital that our understanding of disaster management be reviewed. The emergence of the resilience discourse has created a new narrative of collaboration between responding agencies and the general public. A crucial part of the growing trend of collaboration between the two spheres has led to better outcomes (e.g., faster clean up, as was seen with the Mud Army in Brisbane, Australia) but also conflicts, tensions and blurring of the accountabilities and expectations (‘Occupy Sandy’ received far better recognition for its local community’s work than many formal authorities). The process of re-imagining the way forward requires integration of two distinct narratives. Disaster management and resilience are fundamentally two sides of the same coin. One is formal and legislated; the other is informally organised. It is critical that a common language of collaboration be agreed upon with special focus on devising a formula of interoperability that recognises both capacities and limitations. In practical terms the cost of disasters will continue to rise until there is a clear understanding that the degree of disruption is part of an ‘unresolved uncertainty’ which must be addressed within the culture of resilience. Resilience in this context forms the basis for a collaborative system that allows all agencies to innovate and grow, despite disruptions.

New cities study offer insight into resilience and competitiveness

TC Ruby in action

TC Ruby in action

A new report by WWF and Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) Foundation says that integrating climate vulnerability, socio-economic sensitivity and adaptive capacity into urban planning can help cities become more resilient and businesses more competitive. The Phillippines may have bore the brunt of several extreme weather events such as typhoons and floods in recent years, but this is not an excuse for businesses to stay away from investing in the archipalego. To help policymakers and private sector leaders understand business risks and opportunities in the country “through the climate lens”, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) Foundation have launched a new study that offers a look into the future of 16 major cities. The report titled “Business Risk Assessment and the Management of Climate Impacts”, launched at an event held last month at the Ayala Museum in Makati, is based on existing climate science studies, city-specific socio-economic data and from experiences of local stakeholders. The study is the final installment of a series of reports launched in phases in 2012 and last January…READ ON

100 Resilient Cities Challenge

Is your city ready to become resilient?

100 Resilient Cities Initiative will be better off with Brisbane as part of it.  Photo: JD

100 Resilient Cities Initiative will be better off with Brisbane as part of it. Photo: JD

The 100 Resilient Cities Challenge seeks to find 100 cities that are ready to build resilience to the social, economic, and physical challenges that cities face in an increasingly urbanized world.

We can’t predict the next disruption or catastrophe. But we can control how we respond to these challenges. We can adapt to the shocks and stresses of our world and transform them into opportunities for growth. If your city applies for the 100 Resilient Cities Challenge, it could be one of 100 cities eligible to receive funding to hire a Chief Resilience Officer, assistance in developing a resilience strategy, access to a platform of innovative private and public sector tools to help design and implement that strategy, and membership in the 100 Resilient Cities Network.

The deadline to apply is September 10, 2014. Ignite the urban resilience movement.