Progress on the road to resilient cities

  • 12-13-2016
  • Nanco Dolman, Royal Haskoning
  • Aquatechtrade

For Nanco Dolman, resilient cities expert with consultancy Royal HaskoningDHV, awareness of the water challenges that are driving a need for a change in the way we develop our urban areas is growing. United Nations (UN) statistics on natural hazards show water-related impacts as the overwhelming cause of harm, while the regular global risks reports of the World Economic Forum put water as one of the leading issues of concern. Most recently the Paris climate change agreement has strengthened the link between water challenges and climate change challenges. ‘Following the Paris agreement, this water challenge is more prominent now,’ he says.

Dolman sees also that this growing awareness has been matched by an increase in activity on initiatives to progress implementation of resilience. He highlights, for example, the progress of the 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) initiative pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation. ‘When they invited cities to become a member of the network, they had so much interest,’ he notes. Already some 15 cities have a resilience strategy in place and these are starting to act. ‘And this first 100 cities network is just a start,’ Dolman adds.

Dolman says he is seeing activity around resilience at all levels: global, regional, national and local. This activity makes him optimistic that we are responding with much-needed organisation on this issue. ‘Organising cooperation is very key to taking the next step in becoming more resilient,’ he says.

As with sustainability or climate change, Dolman notes that people do not always share a single view as to just what a term means. For resilience, he agrees with the definition of the Rockefeller Foundation initiative, which he sums up as: ‘It is the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, even systems, within a city to survive, adapt and grow no matter what kind of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.’

‘Resiliency is very complex,’ Dolman adds. He points out also that the 100RC initiative, for example, is not just focused on water, although water is a crucial aspect of resilience. ‘Water is a connecting challenge in making cities resilient,’ says Dolman. The water issue then becomes a way of looking at cities and at how to make them climate- and future-proof.

All of this means resilience can present a challenge for city administrations. ‘This can be very, very difficult,’ says Dolman. City leaders have a crucial role to play, which is why high-level institutions such as the UN and the World Bank try to support them with frameworks or ‘road maps’, for example, to help them see a way forward.

This complexity though brings opportunities. Dolman points out that his company developed its own vision on global challenges, identifying four: the urban challenge, the water challenge, the transport challenge, and the industrial challenge. ‘We consider them also as an opportunity, because you can make smarter connections,’ he says. For resilient cities this can mean identifying opportunities to build multifunctional infrastructure, for example, or to begin to close resource cycles and make cities more self-sustaining.

For the future, Dolman hopes that the momentum around the Paris climate change agreement will provide an opportunity to go beyond action on greenhouse gas emissions to achieve progress on wider issues such as resilience. ‘I hope that this will be the catalyst to do more than that,’ he says.

Dolman notes also a piece of advice he received which stands out for him: ‘Worry about things we can change, instead of things we are not able to change.’ Cooperation is going to be needed for progress on resilience to be achieved. If people are able to take this advice on board, they can contribute to the change that is needed for a resilient future.

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