Museologia Social e Urbanismo XLI

Building Urban Resilience and Transformative Development

Discussion prompts:

  1. What are the various components that constitute urban resilience and how can resilience be measured and augmented?
  2. Discuss case studies where cities or local communities have been resilient to disaster risks, and analyse the reasons that have lead to such outcomes.

Cities are systems of systems that frequently tend to self-organise to protect themselves and resist change yet, as they grow and sometimes evolve, they give up established and stable forms of organisation, spatial structure and even metabolism to embrace new ways.

This often happens in conditions of extreme uncertainty of the future and the external environment, as well as the complex dynamic inter-relationships that define urban systems in the first place.

To address the systemic challenges, cities have both to be resilient and maintain the potential for change and transformation. In this chapter we will examine what ‘urban resilience’ is, understand the impact of resilience on the poor and vulnerable. We will also examine key characteristics of resilient cities, the governance and institutional qualities that make them so, and finally, the financial resources required to enable urban resilience. What is Urban resilience? It is the capacity of cities to function so that the people living and working in them, particularly the poor and vulnerable, survive and thrive no matter what stresses or shocks they encounter. This conception of resilience moves away from traditional disaster risk reduction based understanding, which is founded on risk assessments that relate to specific hazards.

Instead, it accepts the possibility that a wide range of disruptive events both stresses and shocks may occur but are not necessarily predictable.

It is also focused on not only bouncing back after a shock like an earthquake or a chemical accident but ‘building back better’ to enhance system resilience of the entire city. It also emphasises improving baseline living and working conditions of people converging with the SDG agenda. Resilience concentrates on enhancing the performance of a system in the face of multiple hazards rather than preventing or mitigating the loss of assets due to a specific event. The Indian city of Surat for example, one of the fastest-growing cities in Asia has experienced several shocks in the last few decades including floods, social unrest, economic shocks and even an outbreak of plague. These shocks have strongly influenced the city’s ability to enhance resilience in multiple ways through community engagement, private sector participation and extending improved infrastructure facilities to all residents.

This was enabled especially due to effective local leadership. Various approaches may be adopted to frame and assess urban resilience: in the past asset-based approaches tended to limit themselves, to reducing the risk to physical assets like buildings and infrastructure often failing to value intangible, social, cultural and institutional assets, that play a critical role in making cities and communities bounce-back or bounce forward in the aftermath of a shock.

They also tend to seriously underestimate the impact of risk on poor and vulnerable populations, who typically have very few assets. Poor populations are disproportionately impacted by disasters, although they suffer only a small share of the economic losses caused by disasters.

According to the World Bank estimates of socio economic resilience in a 117 countries – the effects of floods, windstorms, earthquakes and tsunamis on well-being are an equivalent to a 520 billion-dollar drop in consumption.

Resilience building therefore, should not focus exclusively on protecting assets but also on reducing the vulnerability of poor people by improving access to basic services and housing which is in effect is the implementation of the SDGs.

This along with disaster risk reduction interventions such as water conservation and flood protection may generate lower gains in avoided asset losses, but larger gains in well-being. Efforts to reduce poverty and build resilience are complementary.

The World Bank estimates for 89 countries, find that if all natural disasters could be prevented next year, the number of people in extreme poverty would fall by over 25 million. The impact of disasters on poverty is large because poor people are exposed to hazards more often, lose more of the proportion of their wealth when hit and receive less support from financial systems and governments and sometimes from family and friends. In fact disasters can push people into poverty.

Hence, resilience building and disaster risk reduction are often effective poverty reduction measures. In building resilience, it’s also important to consider regional assets that may be outside the physical boundaries of the city but play a large role in their functioning such as ecosystem services, for example, watershed development and reservoirs that provide safe water supply to a city. Territorial development and planning is a good way to enable this for sustainable cities. It is therefore important to use a whole systems’ approach to understand and build resilience for urban systems and the people living in them. According to Da Silva and Morera, a resilience city has 12 essential characteristics:

1) There’s low human vulnerability such that everyone’s basic needs are met, for example, Addis Ababa which is home to a quarter of Ethiopia’s population response to large-scale rural to urban migration, unemployment and congested living conditions.

2) Diverse livelihoods and employment opportunities facilitated by access to finance, ability to accrue savings, skills training, business support and social welfare, for example Thessaloniki, the Greek port city is addressing social inequality, unemployment and transpiration shortfalls in an innovative and coordinated manner.

3) Adequate safeguards to human life and health via integrated health facilities and responsive emergency services like that are being established in Surat, India.

4) Collective identity and mutual support through active community engagement, strong social networks and social integration, for example, immigrant and marginalised communities uniting in New Orleans, United States to overcome the impact of Hurricane Katrina and a major oil spill.

5) Social stability and security through law enforcement, crime prevention, justice and emergency management for example, the public looting and arson in Concepción, Chile following the February 2010 earthquake that demonstrated that it can take a city considerable effort to recover from the social and human impacts of disasters.

6) Availability of funds within city finances, diverse revenue streams and the ability of urban areas to attract business investments, capital allocation and emergency funds. San Francisco leveraged its huge tourism industry, 30 of the world’s largest financial institutions and major bio technology and internet commerce firms to help mitigate earthquake and fire risk.

7) Reduced physical exposure and vulnerability with environmental stewardship, appropriate infrastructure, effective land use planning and enforcement of planning regulations. Belfast in Ireland is attempting to respond to an increase in weather-related vulnerability as most of its strategic infrastructure is flood-prone.

8) Continuity of critical services along with diversity of provisions, redundancy, active management and maintenance of ecosystem services and infrastructure. For example, despite their proximity to water, residents of coastal communities in Semarang, Indonesia are often most affected by water shortages forcing them to over extract groundwater which in turn leads to land subsidence.

9) Reliable communication and mobility including diverse and affordable multi- modal transport systems and information and communication that is ICT networks, for example, Radio BioBio due to its continuity planning and backup systems disseminated critical information in earthquake-hit Concepción in Chile when all other systems failed.

10) Effective leadership and management via government, business and civil society through platforms that enable multi stakeholder consultation and engagement and evidence-based decision making. A concerted government effort to assess and monitor ageing infrastructure integrity has prevented a repeat of the tragic building collapses that occurred in the 1990s in Seoul, South Korea – the city is implementing a citywide resilience strategy to reduce infrastructure risk by involving diverse groups of citizens and stakeholders.

11) Empowered stakeholders underpinned by education and awareness for all particularly the vulnerable, for example, the city of Cali in Colombia grew rapidly in the 1970s forcing poor people to live within the floodplains although levies were made to protect against flooding they had become compromised by encroachment by local communities, they have to be involved in their rehabilitation.

12) Integrated development planning with a vision, strategy and plans that are regularly reviewed and updated by cross-departmental groups, for example, integrated development is helping tackle the legacy of apartheid, building more cohesive communities and a more connected city in Cape Town, South Africa.

Apart from these characteristics resilient urban systems especially their governance and institutional arrangements have few qualities that distinguish them from other locations.

They are typically reflective with mechanisms to continuously evolve to respond to an uncertain future based on new emerging evidence.

Robust with well-conceived constructed and managed physical assets so that they can withstand the impact of shocks and provide for safe failure;

Redundant, with spare capacity that is intentional and cost-effective such that systems can accommodate disruption, extreme pressures and surges in demand;

Resourceful, such that people and systems can rapidly find different ways to achieve their goals or meet their needs at the time of shocks;

Flexible implying that they can change, evolve and adapt in response to changing circumstances; Inclusive emphasising the need for broad consultation and engagement including with the poor and most vulnerable groups;

Integrated ensuring alignment between city systems promoting consistency in decision-making and making investments mutually supportive to a common outcome.

An enormous volume of capital is expected to flow into urban and regional infrastructure development in the coming decades particularly in East and South Asia and Sub-saharan Africa. Much of this growth will occur in countries with weak capacities to ensure risk-sensitive urban development.

The global average annual loss in urban infrastructure alone is estimated to increase to up to 400 billion dollars by 2030 if current trends of poor building and infrastructure quality continue. This growth in expected losses is not inevitable as annual investments of just 6 billion dollars, inappropriate disaster risk management strategies could generate benefits in terms of risk reduction of over 360 billion dollars according to the World Bank – this is equivalent to an annual reduction of new and additional expected losses by more than 20%. In new development is yet to be built, it signifies a huge opportunity to implement the SDGs. Meanwhile, of the total development assistance provided globally for international disasters only 4% is allocated for disaster prevention and preparedness and the bulk, about 70%, is used for emergency and disaster response.

We need to invert this prioritisation starting with local and regional  governments to realise the potential of both SDG 11 and the other SDGs. Policies that make people more resilient and so better able to cope with and recover from the consequences of disasters, that cannot be avoided, can save about a hundred billion dollars a year. Action on risk reduction has large potential but not all disasters can be avoided. Expanding financial inclusion, disaster risk and health insurance, social protection and adaptive safety nets, contingent finance and reserve funds and universal access to basic services, improved housing and early warning systems would also reduce well-being losses from natural disasters.

If all countries implement these policies in a proposed resilience package, according to the World Bank the gain in well-being would be equivalent to about a $100 billion increase in annual global consumption. So what have we learned from the session Resilience focuses on enhancing the performance of a system in the face of multiple hazards; rather than preventing or mitigating the losses of assets due to a specific event. City systems should be reflective, robust, redundant, flexible, resourceful, inclusive and integrated to enable resilience. Natural disasters effect well-being more than what traditional systems estimate, yet efforts to reduce poverty and disaster risks are complementary and policies that make people and systems resilient can save over $100 billion a year that can be invested further towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.



Sobre Pedro Pereira Leite

Investigador do Centro de Estudos Sociais da Universidade de Coimbra onde desenvolve o projeto de investigação "Heranças Globais: a inclusão dos saberes das comunidades como instrumento de desenvolvimento integrado dos território".(2012-2107) . O projeto tem como objetivo observar a relevâncias no uso da memória social em quatro territórios ligados por processos sociais comuns. A investigação desenvolve-se em Portugal e Espanha, na zona da Fronteira; em Moçambique e no Brasil. (FCT:SHRH/BPD/76601/2011). É diretor de Casa Muss-amb-iki - espaço de Memórias. Intervém no âmbito de pesquisa de redes sociais de memoria.
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