Regional Strategies Key to Resilient Europe

A frequently cited statistic estimates that 70% of the world’s population will reside in urban areas by 2050. In Europe, however, that figure is already over 70% and due to reach 80% by 2020. These growing urban centres – disproportionately affected by challenges ranging from aging infrastructure to terrorism, extreme weather to mass migration – are at the forefront of developing and deploying innovative solutions, and making the investments that will provide tangible benefits for their citizens.

In this vein, the Nordic Resilient Regions Association is working in partnership with 100 Resilient Cities to advance a regional approach to addressing urban resilience in Europe, using lessons learned from Nordic cities.

Peaking in sustainability, still challenged by reality

The historical home of the Vikings and the present-day home of 100RC member city Vejle, Europe’s Nordic region is also a leader in sustainability. The region ranks top on several listings, including UN SDSN’s SDG Index in which 4 Nordic countries take the 4 top positions. Nevertheless, Nordic cities remain exposed to a range of resilience challenges that include both acute shocks and chronic stresses.

The following challenges are particularly urgent to address:

  1. Climate change and the new weather 

    Nordic cities are increasingly faced with cloudbursts, heat waves, and rising sea levels. The direct costs from these weather-related events are obvious and are tracked by insurance companies. However, the indirect costs, derived from different kinds of disruptions in society, are more difficult to measure. Calculating these costs adequately would result in a totally new cost-benefit model that would create clear incentives for investment in resilience.

  2. Urbanization 

    We are not prepared for the rapidly increasing rate of urbanization. Our city plans must address the need to increase the capacity of urban infrastructure and the service sector, as well as to formulate strategies for better integrating migrants and refugees, the new citizens, into our societies.

  3. Aging cities 

    This challenge is three-fold. First, our cities are aging, and their old and outdated infrastructure is in need of both upgrading and updating. Second, we have an aging population with increasing demands for services and inclusive city design. Finally, the current industrial city structure is no longer serving its purpose. Cities in Europe have grown and developed rapidly during the industrial peak of the 1960s-70s, when the predominant idea was to live in one part of the city and work in another. This structure has led to the social challenge of segregated neighborhoods – a first stop for migrants and the unemployed. Now as we seek to reinvest in these neighborhoods, it is not enough to just renovate buildings but it is also a must to reintegrate them into the modern city. 

  4. Disruptive technologies 

    Without a doubt, we live in a time of rapid change in technology that have already impacted our way of life and business models. This represents both an opportunity and a challenge. Digitization, new technologies in the energy sector, and mobility are examples of areas where this is already evident. Disruptive technologies must be taken into consideration as cities and regions develop urban strategies moving forward. This is additionally a great setting for the public and private sectors to generate a common understanding of future opportunities.

A resilient city is a functioning city

In the Nordics, urban resilience is best understood as the ability of cities and regions to maintain functionality in the face of different pressures. One of Resilient Regions Association’s early projects was to address functionality more systematically. This resulted in the Urban Flows model, to easily communicate what in fact ensures a city and region to function.

The Urban Flows, a model describing the six flows that impact the urban functionality.

The model describes the city’s functionality as a system of six flows which are owned and operated both by public and private sectors: Energy, Information, Goods, Service, People and Money.

In order to achieve a smart, well-functioning, and therefore resilient city, collaboration must take place between the private and public sectors. The urban flows among and between sectors are important for society to function, and how well they work and cope in the face of different challenges is crucial for how we experience a city or region. This in turn has great impact on individuals’ choice of where we settle down and on businesses choosing where to establish themselves and invest.

Urbanity – more than mega cities

It is easy to be fascinated by the megacities, their challenges, and solutions – however no megacities exist in the Nordic region and only a few have emerged in Europe. Cities in Europe are generally small but become significant in size when clustered into regions. Therefore, we find regional approach beneficial and necessary to address resilience in the European context. Cloudbursts rarely respect any municipal borders. People often work in one city and live in another.

Smaller cities are faced with many of the same challenges as their larger counterparts. In order to address these challenges effectively, cities must collaborate and share resources as well as make collective investments.

Inspired by 100RC’s work to develop holistic city Resilience Strategies, we think Europe would benefit from applying this approach on a regional level. This would enable smaller cities to benefit from and contribute to a more resilient Europe.

Europe should take advantage of all the great knowledge and expertise that has been generated within 100RC, as more than a dozen European cities are members of the network and already have adopted the resilience approach. Future EU investment should support this development and encourage further engagement across the regions of Europe.


Resilient Regions Association, established 2010, is a non-profit organization and a neutral arena for regional collaboration on urban resilience. Learn more and get in touch by visiting Resilient Regions website (resilientregions.org).

Read more about 100 Resilient Cities work in Europe by exploring our EU Resilience ProspectusInfrastructure, Finance, and Collaboration: A Conversation Between European Chief Resilience Officers, and Urban Lessons for a Resilient Region.