The growth of urban resilience thinking

If we look at recent gatherings in Europe it would appear that than operating at the periphery of thinking amongst planners and other built environment professionals, urban resilience is being mainstreamed in public policy.

Last week (12-1 May) over 400 delegates gathered for the third Resilient Cities 2012 workshop in Bonn organised by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. Their purpose? To interact with a range of international practitioners responsible for implementing urban resilience strategies, policies and tools and to learn from a range of urban resilience practices from around the world in a fields as diverse as climate change adaption and logistics.

Amongst the key topics of discussion was the role urban planning can play in reducing vulnerability and in helping cities move away from danger. This incorporates the use of new design methods which might assist the built fabric of cities resist disruptive challenges, notably from climate change, it should be done in an integrative way and connected to principles sustainable development. In this vein the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) unveiled a new guide, How to make cities more resilient: a handbook for local government leaders, which:

“… provides mayors, governors, councillors and other local government leaders with a generic framework for risk reduction and points to good practices and tools that are already being applied in different cities for that purpose. It discusses why building disaster resilience is beneficial; what kind of strategies and actions are required; and how to go about the task. It offers practical guidance to understand and take action on the “Ten Essentials for Making Cities Resilient” as set out in the global campaign “Making Cities Resilient: My City is Getting Ready!”.

 A number of key actions are seen as essential linked to indentifying, understanding, preparing for and reducing urban risk to underlying (or unexpected) challenges (p.11):

  • Build institutional capacity: Ensure that disaster risk reduction is a national and local priority with a strong institutional basis for implementation.
  • Know your risks: Identify, assess and monitor disaster risks and enhance early warning.
  • Build understanding and awareness: Use knowledge, innovation and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels.
  • Reduce risk: Reduce the underlying risk factors through land-use planning, environmental,  social and economic measures.
  • Be prepared and ready to act: Strengthen disaster preparedness for effective response at all levels.

Such broad guidance is set to become commonplace as more urban areas begin to take the challenge of resilience seriously, committing effort and resource towards strategic implementation of plans to reduce vulnerability.

Increasingly urban planners and urban designers are become more responsible for such resilience intervention. However more needs to be done so that planners and other built environment professionals are aware of resilience requirements and are happy to undertake these tasks. Moreover, appropriate training and continual professional development needs to be undertaken so that appropriate skill sets can be developed and planners can learn to work with other professions they have traditionally had little to do with (such as climate scientists, disaster managers, the emergency services, etc) and so that they are better able to embed resiliency into the design of buildings and places in ways that assist sustainable development criteria.

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