Building Resilience in a City is the Work of a Generation

This article first appeared on Express Water, India’s premier water community platform. 100RC engages in content partnerships with several organizations, and cross-posting does not indicate an endorsement or agreement.


Why the increasing attention everywhere to 100 Resilient Cities? What is this project all about?

Michael: 100 Resilient Cities – Pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation (100RC) is dedicated to helping cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social, and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century. Globally, we are experiencing the convergence of three mega-trends: globalization, urbanization and climate change. For the first time in history, more than 50% of the earth’s population lives in cities and three-quarters of the world’s GDP is concentrated in cities. These cities are increasingly connected and interdependent and they are all increasingly susceptible to the effects of climate change. All of this makes our cities vulnerable. 100RC helps cities prepare for both fast and slow-moving disasters including sudden and unexpected disruption such as earthquakes, floods, disease outbreaks, etc. but also the stresses that weaken the fabric of a city on a day to day or cyclical basis. Examples of these stresses include high unemployment; an overtaxed or inefficient public transportation system; endemic violence; or chronic food and water shortages. By addressing both the shocks and the stresses, a city can better respond to adverse events and is more capable of delivering basic functions in both good times and bad, to all populations. To date in India our cities have created more than 60 actionable initiatives to improve the lives of residents and strengthen the city for the future. These initiatives address a range of issues from water security, to mobility to healthcare to affordable housing.

What is the role of a CRO (Chief Resilience Officer) in this project?

Michael: The CRO is an innovative, senior position in city government that acts as the city’s point person for resilience building, helping to coordinate all of the city’s resilience efforts.

CROs are an important part of how we’re trying to solve two major problems cities face:

• First, cities are complex systems made of an array of smaller, distinct actors like government agencies, local businesses, and offices of international organizations; and they often don’t communicate or interact with one another as much as they should;
• Second, the solutions cities develop are often not treated as scalable knowledge. Cities regularly solve problems that already have been addressed by other cities, when instead they could be modifying solutions and lessons learned in other cities, tailoring them to be more cost-efficient and effective.

They do this by working across government departments to help cities address and understand their own complexities; bringing together a wide array of stakeholders from the public, private and community level; leading the Resilience Strategy process to develop a roadmap for strengthening the city in a holistic and inclusive way; and encouraging the city to make plans and decisions using a resilience lens. Our global network of CROs also works together to problem solve, develop best practice and share solutions that can be scaled for use in multiple cities.

What is the role of public and private sectors?

Michael: We recognize the challenges our cities face can’t be solved by the public and philanthropic sector alone. To build a truly resilient city, the public and private sector must work together and they must also work with civil society, non-profit organizations, academic institutions and community groups. Each sector has a role to play as an important part of building resilience is breaking down silos and encouraging collaboration. Private sector organizations bring the best and brightest experts and tools to our cities. In order to foster this kind of collaboration we have developed a set of strategic partnerships with global industry leaders and innovators, including curating a platform of resilience-building tools and services from the private, public, academic, and non-profit sectors. More than 100 organizations have agreed to donate more than USD 250 million in goods and services to the cities in our network including Indian company Navigem. These engagements help cities better define their problems and let the private sector develop better solutions and services that can be scaled across markets. For example, in Bangkok, Dutch company Deltares is working with the city to help them create a long-term vision for water management that takes into account how the city has grown, its current infrastructure needs and gaps and the expected impacts of climate change.

Have you selected any cities in India for this project? What was the procedure and criteria to select those cities? What is the outcome so far?

Michael: We have four cities in India in the 100RC network: Chennai, Jaipur, Pune and Surat. All of the cities in our network were selected through a global competition that took places in three stages over three years. As we had over 1100 applications to join the network we had to work very carefully to develop a set of criteria for selecting cities and this process evolved over each round of admissions. We wanted a mix of different kinds of cities with different kinds of challenges in different geographies. We also looked for city leadership that was progressive and committed to participating in the network and putting the city through the resilience strategy process. Each city also had to have a reason for joining – a recent shock or increasingly problematic stress that motivates it to want to do this work. And finally, we wanted each city to have something to offer to the network – an expertise it could teach as well as knowledge gaps it wanted to fill by learning from other cities. Surat, which joined the network in the first wave of admissions in 2013, became the first city in India to release a comprehensive Resilience Strategy in April 2017. Since then we have been working closely with the CRO and the Commissioner to implement a number of projects with a focus on cleaning up the River Tapi and improving last mile connectivity to make the city’s public transport system more effective. Chennai and Pune have CROs on board and will release preliminary resilience assessments shortly and Jaipur is currently interviewing CRO candidates and will appoint one in the first quarter of this year. Membership in the 100RC network is already bearing fruit for these cities. A delegation from Surat attended a network learning exchange in Rotterdam and now these two cities have a deep connection that has led to collaboration on water and waste management. In early 2016, Chennai hosted a water management workshop to discuss best practice management of the Pallikarani Marsh to protect the city from flooding. Our Indian cities are also taking a lead globally. Earlier this year, Pune Commissioner Kunal Kumar joined our global City Leaders Advisory Committee to advise 100RC on policy and advocacy strategies and help us identify and prioritize key urban issues.

What are the economic challenges for resilient cities?

Michael: Building resilience in a city is the work of a generation. It takes time and requires forward-thinking investment. Cities do not have the luxury of solving singular problems but rather need to invest more wisely so that solutions can deliver multiple benefits and solve multiple problems with single interventions. While this can be cost efficient in the long run, it often requires higher investment up front and this can be difficult for city leaders, budget planners and investors alike. As much as the CRO works to break down municipal government silos and encourage inter-department collaboration, there also needs to be collaboration across balance sheets so that the city knows it is getting the most out of every dollar spent.

What are the most successful “smart water technology initiatives” you’ve seen globally, and could these be easily replicated in other cities?

Michael: Many of the most successful water initiatives that we’ve seen at work in our network can be replicated and our cities are studying how to adapt these solutions for local use. In Rotterdam for example, they have developed water parks that serve as water retention ponds in wet weather and as public parks when it’s dry – easing the pressure on drainage systems and improving social cohesion. In New York, the city is working on what it calls the ‘Big U’ – as sea wall with public parkland and community spaces incorporated – that will protect lower Manhattan from sea level rise. In Singapore they are converting concrete drainage canals into streams and parkland improving water management, biodiversity and adding more green space for social cohesion and improved health outcomes. In Jakarta, the city is studying how community-scale waste water treatment facilities can give 8 million more residents access to piped sewerage. While many of these solutions don’t necessarily rely on cutting edge technology, new and innovative technology is essential for gathering and understanding the data necessary to know that you’re developing the right solution and making the right investment. This is where we can see the difference that new technology can bring to solutions that have been tried and tested around the world.

“Water safety and security” is a major issue nowadays. Do you address it?

Michael: Water safety and security is a major issue for most cities in the world. Over 70% of all the cities that applied to be in the 100RC network cited water – either too much, too little, or both – as a key concern and reason for wanting to join the network. Nearly all of the 36 City Resilience Strategies that have been released to date contain initiatives that address the city’s relationship with water in some way. Our cohort of Platform Partners includes about 20 organizations that deal with water, climate change and related risk mitigation. In Rotterdam we held a network learning exchange on best practice water management strategies. In Cape Town, we are working closely with city leadership to better understand the impact of and help the city prepare for the dams potentially running dry in April should current drought interventions not succeed. Here in India, in Surat we are working with the city on a major clean up and improvement of the River Tapi and its waterfront. This will not only improve access to clean drinking water, it will also strengthen the relationship Surtis have with their river improving transportation and health outcomes and helping to protect the river for future generations.

Can you cite any governments doing a particularly good job with policy to promote more resilient, more sustainable cities?

Michael: One model many cities look to instructively is Singapore. As a small island with little to no natural resources, the government has had to be extremely prudent in how it manages development, land use and resources and it has made a concerted effort to build a clean, green and healthy city. More than 30% of the city is covered in green space and with new policies intended to encourage vertical greening, this number will only grow. Another city we often cite as a model for good governance is Rotterdam in the Netherlands. As a low-lying coastal city, Rotterdam has long faced water challenges and has become expert at water management. However, as a port city with an incredibly diverse population, Rotterdam also began to develop social cohesion challenges. The city has found many ways to tackle its water and social issues together and has even begun to export their expertise to other cities. Just last year, Rotterdam and Surat signed a series of MOUs to work together on water and waste management challenges. In late 2017, Santiago de Chile hosted a network exchange for several cities including Jakarta, Sydney, Miami and Manchester to discuss best practice metropolitan governance and collaboration across metro-regional boundaries. This rich exchange will provide further insight for the rest of our network in terms of best practice governance approaches to embedding resilience into the fabric of cities.

How should the city planners finance their city development initiatives?

Michael: Deep, strategic collaboration between resilience and finance practitioners is crucial for a truly resilient city. It is vital to integrate resilience into operational and financial decision-making processes. This means bringing key financial and resilience stakeholders to the table to align planned expenditure with desired resilience outcomes. In order to secure funding, resilience practitioners and city planners need to be able to quantify the economic value of potential investments in resilience which will allow them to prioritize and cost-justify resilience-building interventions.

While there is no one right solution for every city model, one thing that is clear is that cities need to make smarter investments that will yield financial and resilience benefits in the long term. In order to achieve this, some of the cities in our network have been successful in applying for grants from national governments or issuing bonds. Some of the cities in our network have used the city resilience framework to re-orient the entire city budget to ensure spending addresses priorities in a holistic and inclusive way. In India, this will mean close collaboration between city, state and national governments to ensure that spending priorities and the impact on cities are genuinely understood and informed by solid analytics and accounting. Ultimately, any city that can find a way to monetize the resilience dividend will be successful in finding funding for thoughtful, well-designed projects that make the city more resilient.

India has planned to develop 100 Smart Cities over the next few decades. What can these cities learn from the 100 Resilient Cities project?

Michael: There is a huge opportunity for cities in India to be both Smart and Resilient. India’s cities are growing faster than almost anywhere else in the world. By 2030, India is expected to have 87 cities with a population exceeding 1 million and is expected to add 300 million urban residents to cities by 2050. This creates an expected USD 1.5 trillion infrastructure demand per year for the next decade. While this is an enormous challenge, it also presents an opportunity to reimagine India’s cities using smart, resilient infrastructure and innovative, data-driven solutions. Each of the four Indian cities in our network is also a Smart city and we want to use these four as pilots for what it can mean to be both Smart and Resilient in India. Part of this is about using data to inform both problem framing and solution development but it’s also about investing for multiple benefits and designing smart solutions that protect the city’s most vulnerable populations.