Infrastructure, Finance, and Collaboration: A Conversation Between European Chief Resilience Officers

In global capitals and mid-size cities alike, local governments throughout Europe are searching for solutions to strengthen and fortify their future, while simultaneously improving the lives of the region’s diverse population. In a cohort of 15 European cities, 100 Resilient Cities works to do just that. An integrated strategy development process has helped forge a more resilient future, leading to both systemic changes in day-to-day city operations and the design and implementation of transformative projects whose impacts range from short to long term.

The early success experienced by 100RC member cities in Europe is now resonating beyond their borders. We see the urban resilience discourse becoming increasingly popular among urban practitioners throughout the region.

Even so, cities and practitioners still face the question of why resilience matters. A strategy is just the starting point; the next step is to prove that resilience thinking actually changes the status quo and leads to a different way of acting in the urban space. Only by putting these transformative projects in action can we create the evidence base that says, “Yes, resilience matters.”

This was the main theme of the “Resilient Europe” event organized in Rotterdam on March 22nd by the EU-funded project URBACT. During the event, I sat down with the Chief Resilience Officers of Paris, Rotterdam, Milan, Bristol, and The Hague to discuss priorities over the next year, exchange ideas and concerns, and understand how we can better work together towards building stronger and more resilient cities and communities in Europe.

What are the resilience priorities on which you will concentrate your city work this year?

Rotterdam wants to continue being a global example of urban resilience, developing innovative solutions addressing our climate challenges but also building social resilience within our communities. For example, this year we will continue to develop the Rotterdam Rooflandscape; our city’s unique roofscape is comprised of up to 14.5 square kilometers of flat roofs – prime space for urban farming, solar panels, water storage, and even sports facilities. As the largest harvestable roof in Europe, the DakAkker Roof Farm gracing the top of the Schieblock office building is one such example right in the heart of the city. We are also working on the redevelopment of the Peperklip housing complex at the outskirts of the city; both in greening the 11,000 square meters of roof of this iconic complex but most importantly by partnering with its diverse community to identify opportunities and co-create solutions.

Arnoud Molenaar, CRO of Rotterdam

In Paris we also seek to achieve multiple benefits through resilient infrastructure, namely with the oasis schoolyards model. To reduce the urban heat island effect in our city, this initiative seeks to convert more than 600,000 square meters of schoolyards into “cool refuges” or local oases for the surrounding community. The city aims to gradually replace current asphalt surfaces with vegetation or new, alternative materials. Utilizing extensive stakeholder engagement, this approach is being piloted in 2-3 schools over the next few months, with the first “oasis schoolyards” expected to open in September.

Sébastien Maire, CRO of Paris

In Milan we are currently developing a Resilience Strategy that builds upon our successes but also addresses fundamental urban challenges. For example, we are exploring the concept of urban forestation and its connection to the local food system, public school retrofitting as a key step towards making Milan carbon neutral, and optimizing our emergency response for an integrated city.

Piero Pelizzaro, CRO of Milan

As we develop our Resilience Strategy over the coming months, several assessments are in consideration or underway to better quantify The Hague’s state of resilience. For example, in safety and security, we plan to develop a simulation model on the cascading effects of critical infrastructure failure as well as a cyber security assessment. Of high importance to our business argument for resilience will be a measurement of the financial impact of shocks and stresses on our city.

Anne-Marie Hitipeuw, The Hague

 

What further steps do you think the European Union and its institutions could take to help you, as CROs, implement your Resilience Strategy and resilience projects?

With its next budget, the EU has a big opportunity to support local government and incentivize wider adoption of a resilience lens. It would be a bold step forward to introduce the climate change risks and vulnerability assessment as a mandatory prerequisite for cities seeking funding opportunities. The development of a common resilience index would additionally be a proactive way for the EU to foster resilience thinking among its members.

Piero Pelizzaro, CRO of Milan

It would be incredibly helpful were the EU to create future funding streams for implementing resilience initiatives, or other financial arrangements that contribute to institutionalizing resilience as a practice. I would also love to see the EU convene city leaders to share learnings on resilience.

Sarah Toy, CRO of Bristol

 

How are you, as Chief Resilience Officer, collaborating with other CROs and cities throughout Europe and the globe? What are the common issues you wish to explore with your fellow CROs?

My team and I collaborate with other CROs and cities as much as possible, because that is the main added value of the 100RC Network from my point of view. Key topics that we would like to explore further with our counterparts include: measuring progress through resilience indicators which capture the impact of our projects, creating climate change adaptation models, and enlarging the scope of work beyond city limits to the metropolitan or regional level. The Network Exchange in Santiago de Chile was a great learning experience on building metropolitan resilience.

Sébastien Maire, CRO of Paris

We have collaborated with Glasgow, Vejle, Thessaloniki, and others on URBACT’s Resilient Europe network to develop more collaborative approaches to community-led resilience. Apart from that, we are keen to share learnings on our approach to open data and dashboard development, and also hope to learn from other cities like The Hague who have been reporting against the Sustainable Development Goals – a process we are initiating in Bristol.

Sarah Toy, CRO of Bristol

Rotterdam has been working closely with our counterparts in Surat on developing local water security, as part of the International Urban Cooperation – India Programme. Our two port cities confront challenges related to flooding and water management, and both of our Resilience Strategies reflect that. This new phase of cooperation – beginning March 2018 – provides a new platform to share expertise and learn from each other.

Arnoud Molenaar, CRO of Rotterdam