Organising for success: city resilience needs collaboration

+ As policy makers meet to create a shared vision for sustainable urban development, the need for effective collaboration has never been greater.

Habitat III is the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, taking place in Quito, Ecuador, 17-20 October 2016. The conference is an opportunity to craft a detailed response to the challenges of urbanisation and the opportunities it presents for the implementation of sustainable development goals. Habitat III will bring together governments, local authorities, civil society, business, academic institutions, and other interest groups to review urban policies affecting the future of cities, to generate a ‘New Urban Agenda’ for the 21st century. 

Before the conference has begun one thing is clear: an effective cross-sector, multi-national and multi-disciplinary approach to urban planning is essential to address the most pressing challenges of our time, yet still all too rare. Whether these challenges are related to climate change, global security, economic development or ongoing political uncertainties (among many others), the answers can only be found through meaningful collaboration. In 2015, C40 and Arup’s Climate Action in Megacities 3.0 report highlighted the tremendous value of collaboration within and between cities for effectively addressing climate change. 

Over the past three years I have been working in partnership with 100 Resilient Cities – pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation (100RC), providing direct support to 21 cities in the development of their city resilience strategies. These strategies require an in-depth understanding of the shocks and stresses that the cities are facing, both now and in the future, across physical, social, economic and political spheres. Many of these shocks and stresses require multidisciplinary responses, bringing in the expertise of multiple government departments, together with business and civil society actors, to ensure their effectiveness, robustness and longevity. 

Participation in the decision-making process is key to success. In the City of Byblos, Lebanon, citizens and minority groups - such as those with disabilities – were engaged in resilience planning from the very beginning, bringing their perspectives on what would help the city prosper despite local, national and regional challenges. After undertaking this participatory process, municipal officials acknowledged the value of understanding citizens’ interests and priorities, and the local population has shared its appreciation at becoming involved.

In the City of Glasgow, Scotland, a Resilience Steering Group was established consisting of City Council officials from emergency planning, regeneration, environmental services and economic development. Joining them were representatives from the National Health Service, local universities, the Fire and Rescue Service and the Police Service. With a unifying focus on city resilience, these partners came together to forge new connections and a joined-up plan for the city’s resilience. 

In Vejle, Denmark, the completed resilience strategy placed great emphasis on the idea of co-creation, meaning that business, government and citizens would together develop new, innovative solutions to the city’s challenges and thereby stimulate economic diversification and growth. 

What all these efforts highlight is that the act of cross-sector cooperation has great power to generate meaningful change. Cities have historically organised themselves around separate dedicated departments and services, but overcoming the issues they now face will require open-minded collaboration. While challenging to achieve, this could yield transformative outcomes.