How are cities changing? Policy trends for developing urban resilience

At 100 Resilient Cities, and in the broader community of resilience practitioners, we talk a lot about institutionalizing resilience and the lofty goals of systems change, where city governments fundamentally shift how they plan and operate to better manage shocks and stresses and the uncertainties of our time.

But what does that really mean? What are examples of how that actually works on the ground?

Last month, 100RC joined researchers and practitioners at Ecole Nationale d’administration Publique (ENAP) for a discussion on urban resilience implementation. Along with a host of global experts, we dug into exactly that question.

100RC presented lessons from our Network on how cities are using public policy to further urban resilience. Despite the fact that the organization’s partnership with cities is only a few years old, many in the 100RC network have enacted a range of policy changes to institutionalize resilience in ways that better prepare those cities for the future.

Specifically, three themes have emerged. We are seeing cities use public policy to integrate resilience thinking into their: project design, land use planning, and budgeting and capital planning.

  • Project design: Cities are changing the design processes that dictate how programs or initiatives are developed or approved. This is done primarily in two ways: by embedding resilience principles into the formal processes and bureaucracies associated with how municipalities design, and/or changing the way in which departments collaborate and make decisions on projects that may influence a city’s resilience. For example, in New Orleans, the city has developed a new Resilience Design Review Committee—an interdepartmental committee that reviews all capital projects from scoping through delivery. This integration allows for the city to get more out of each individual project and ensure the design standards and delivery for city investments reflect the city’s resilience goals and challenges, from climate adaptation to economic opportunity.
  • Land use planning: Based on their resilience profiles (including active shocks and stresses, areas of strength and vulnerability, and understanding of interdependencies, etc.), cites are changing the zoning and regulations that govern the built environment—determining what can be built where and with what requirements. For example, in Norfolk, the city redesigned its approach to planning and land use to respond to the analysis and goals of its resilience strategy. Vision 2100 introduces a bold set of policies and principles to govern future growth in a resilient way. The plan organizes the city into four districts based on their shocks, stresses, and asset profiles, and proposes distinct land use strategies for each, from Transferable Development Rights for high-risk, low-asset neighborhoods where the city doesn’t want to see new growth, to targeted investment in low-risk areas with the potential for developing new assets for the future.
  • Budgeting and capital planning: Recognizing that budgeting and planning is a key lever of influence toward long-term change and decision making, many cities are finding ways to integrate resilience into these processes. For example, in Berkeley last year, city voters approved a $100M infrastructure bond. The criteria the city will use to prioritize which capital projects will get funding from that bond measure are based on the city’s resilience strategy and focus on ensuring city resources target integrated solutions that address shocks like seismic threat, as well as stresses like water insecurity.

In addition to (and often in concert with) these areas of policy change, another area of institutional change is the formalization of the CRO Office. Already, we have seen that nearly all member cities continue to fund their CRO and Resilience Teams beyond the 100RC grant period.

Cities as diverse as Glasgow, Scotland, Melbourne, Australia and Da Nang, Vietnam have all continued to fund and support their CROs. Many have even taken steps to formalize and expand the office through their city charter or mandates, or in the case of Mexico City, building a resilience commitment directly into their city’s constitution.

While it is too early to know the full impacts of these kinds of policy changes, the fact that municipal bureaucracies are embracing resilience principles and adapting so quickly is encouraging. It reinforces that cities are at the fore of designing an adaptable and equitable future—that they are willing to take action to change how they plan and deliver services to improve the well-being of their cities today and to facilitate their chances to adapt, thrive and grow.

For additional details and examples on the policy changes afoot in 100RC network cities, you can read the paper prepared for the ENAP conference here.