"There can be no resilient cities without resilient people"

"There can be no resilient cities without resilient people"

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Date: 20th March 2015
Author: CDKN Global
Type: Feature
Organisation: ICLEI
Countries: Asia, Thailand
Tags: cities, resilient cities

February saw the first Resilient Cities congress taking place in Bangkok. Over three days, more than 300 practitioners, policy-makers and researchers from international, national and local governments and organizations presented and discussed tried and tested solutions for issues connected to making cities in the Asian and Pacific region resilient. Alice Reil, ICLEI European Secretariat, reports.

Mr Kaveh Zahedi, Regional Director of the United Nations Environment Programme Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok, cut straight to the chase during the opening plenary of the congress by stating: “Cities are at the forefront of climate change and local authorities have no choice but to be at the forefront of building resilience.” Casting my eyes over the audience I saw a lot of heads nodding. Mr Zahedi’s remarks clearly resonated with the participants – and many had come to share their experience and ideas on this complex undertaking with others in sessions, panel discussions and corridor conversations. This one as well as a number of other remarks still come to my mind today as weeks have passed.

“Strong leadership and innovation at the sub-national level can be a catalyst for national and international action in climate compatible development”

CDKN’s own Khizer Omer from LEAD Pakistan emphasised the importance of local governments in building the momentum for change in climate compatible development for resilient cities – and picked up where Mr Zahedi left off.

The workshop organised by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability from the Southeast Asia, South Asia and Europe office in collaboration with CDKN focused on why many plans on making cities resilient get stuck in the attempt to implement them. Amongst the challenges the participants mentioned (and which are brought up less often) were, for example, that policies at national and sub-national level are not as supportive as they could be, that it is difficult to fulfil the requirements to be eligible for funding and – in particular – that there is a severe mismatch between the capacity of local governments as implementing agencies and their technical knowledge. To be able to replicate successfully implemented projects better, participants voiced the need for local as well as non-local implementing agencies to involve city councils as well as local and regional media from the start to seek support, to organise events and use social media and city newsletters to inform and update the communities and to conduct trainings as well as exchange visits between the successfully implemented and newly planned projects for local decision-makers as well as those who will implement the new projects.

This Resilient Cities Asia-Pacific congress is part of the Resilient Cities – The Annual global Forum on Urban Resilience and Adaptation series. It was launched in 2010 by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, the World Mayors Council on Climate Change and the host city of Bonn in Germany. Every year it attracts more than 500 participants and 30 partners and connects local government leaders with climate adaptation experts to discuss adaptation challenges of and explore opportunities for urban environments worldwide.

Numerous sessions and events throughout the congresses have covered a wide variety of topics such as urban risk, resilient urban logistics, financing the resilient city, urban agriculture, smart infrastructure and many more.

“Resilience starts with people. There can be no resilient cities without resilient people”

At the same time most of us will know that making cities resilient in and beyond the Asia and Pacific region is not merely about dealing with climate change impacts or equipping our urban infrastructure to live up to extreme weather events. But are any of the cities or even we as practitioners, policy-makers and researchers really taking a thoroughly holistic approach to becoming and making resilient cities?

Both Mr Luiz de Mello, Deputy Director of Public Governance and Territorial Development at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), as well as Mr Ashvin Dayal, Associate Vice President and Managing Director of the Asia office of the Rockefeller Foundation, remarked that there is a tendency to focus on ‘physical’ resilience. Yet at the same time, we need to realize that we need to invest more in soft and social infrastructure. As the Vice Governor of the megacity Bangkok, Ms Pasadee Thamthai, put it in a nutshell: “Resilience starts with people. There can be no resilient cities without resilient people.” While we should focus on climate change impacts and the physical damages they entail, we also need to keep in mind how these impacts affect our cities’ socio-economic fabric. Strong, functioning and inclusive societies and economies are vital in withstanding and recovering from natural disasters.

 “It is not just about giving privilege to the poor, making them participate is what really counts.”

Mr Red Constantino from the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities in the Philippines went one step further. We all know that we need to make resiliency planning and implementation pro-poor. But not only do we need to privilege poor as well as vulnerable urban residents: What really counts is that we engage them and have them participate – and not only when it comes to issues concerning them directly. We need to include them in a more general sense, in all aspects of urban planning and development that are relevant to all urban residents. We have to make long-term integrated, inclusive planning, implementation and management approaches the ‘new normal’. Only then will we be able to become resilient urban societies and have resilient cities.

 “There is no shortage of money – there is a shortage of financial engineering.”

If cities as well as we as practitioners, policy-makers and researchers think of making our cities resilient through integrated and inclusive planning and management, huge – often too huge – figures come to our minds. But is this really a valid reason not to attempt this endeavour? Mr Peter King from USAID Adapt Asia-Pacific disagreed. Financing urban resilience requires better, smarter financial engineering with the money that is available – and there is no shortage of it. Mr King highlighted two ways of going about this: firstly, cities should become more resilient by protecting their assets better. Secondly, low and middle income urban residents need to be given easier access to funds or loans to finance adaptation and mitigation projects in their communities (in addition to actually being made aware of possibilities and steps of application).

The first Resilient Cities Asia-Pacific congress succeeded in highlighting – as Mr Emani Kumar, Deputy Secretary General of ICLEI, noted in his congress summary – “the usually forgotten social aspects of planning for urban resilience – collaboration, awareness and capacity building, gender integration and financing programs – [...] more prominently in addition to infrastructure development and urban risk assessments.”

Do you want to find out more about what happened at the Resilient Cities Asia-Pacific congress? Please click here.

We occasionally invite bloggers from around the world to provide their experiences and views. The views expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of CDKN.

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