4 Things I Will be Looking for at WUF

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By Michael Berkowitz

Last week, a group of former 100 Resilient Cities executives and founders, including myself, launched Resilient Cities Catalyst, a new nonprofit comprised of urban practitioners and resilience experts with deep experience working in cities around the world. Through RCC, we hope to expand the universe of actors focused on urban resilience, rooted in the lessons and expertise from 100RC.

In just a few days, urbanists and planners will turn their attention to Abu Dhabi, site of the 10th World Urban Forum — the next significant opportunity to continue fostering a conversation on urban resilience. Through six years of incubating the urban resilience movement at 100RC, we’ve seen the opportunity that events like WUF have for advancing urban resilience.

With that in mind, here are the four things I will be looking for at WUF:

  1. Mainstreaming of a holistic vision of urban resilience

Urban resilience has come a long way. In 2014, when we signed the Medellin Collaboration on Urban Resilience (MCUR) along with partners from UNISDR, UN Habitat, the World Bank and others at WUF 8, people still thought about “resilience” as disaster risk reduction. In the intervening six years we’ve seen that discourse shift and broaden. Practitioners across a range of disciplines understand that making a city stronger, less fragile, and more resilient requires a holistic approach to mitigate the underlying stresses impacting a city. We now understand that to make a city less vulnerable to shocks, you need to think about stresses, such as lack of adequate housing, chronic food and water shortages, and chronic crime and violence. Thanks in part to work by our partners at Arup who created the City Resilience Framework, it is now widely understood that the diversity of an economy, the cohesion of communities and the capacity of a government matters just as much as the age of our infrastructure and the speed of our disaster response. We now understand that a resilience lens demands a holistic view of these elements together. This approach has resonated with Mayors too, speaking to their need to find unifying themes connecting city management across sectors and silos, while preparing for short-term and long-term risk alike. At WUF10, I will be interested in seeing how these principles continue to mainstream into policies and procedures across city governance and are no longer just the purview of select resilience practitioners.

2. A focus on implementation

As an urban community, we’ve gotten better at planning and design but the biggest opportunity is better project implementation. This won’t be breaking news, everyone wants to focus on implementation. But it’s time to get more granular. We spent six years helping 100 cities create visions and plans for how to build resilience. One of the opportunities that emerged through that process was the need for more attention and resources upstream in the project lifecycle (think somewhere between ideation and pre-feasibility). We know there’s a lot of capital for mature projects, and we know the need is great. But cities (and regions and nations) have a hard time progressing those projects into something attractive to funders and financiers. In the last few years we’ve seen a proliferation of project prep facilities, yet many are designed to help more mature projects get structured. At WUF10 I’ll be watching and listening for funders and investors that have early (and riskier) money to help key innovative projects get off the ground and into the pipeline.

3. A discussion of governance that includes voices from the national, regional and municipal levels

Cities (and here I mean municipal governments, mayors, and their staffs) are amazing to work with. They are practical and innovative — and often they are closest to the issues we are all trying to solve. We’d all be a lot better if they had more power and resources to push innovation forward and try out solutions. But the organizer of WUF10, the UN, is an organization of nation states. Traditionally it’s been loathe to push for countries to devolve too much power to cities. There’s no rhyme or reason to how much structural authority cities have — even within the same country it can be a mixed bag — but the UN could use this platform to help nation states align around best practice models that put more power in the hands of mayors and make it easier for partners to plug in and help. At 100RC, I wished we’d recognized the importance of this issue sooner and that we needed to use national urban ministries as an entry point in some cases. At WUF10 I’ll be looking for UN Habitat to help national governments better understand how devolving (more) power to cities is better for everyone and I‘ll be looking for like-minded urban ministries to help drive change in cities.

4. The launch of the Global Resilient Cities Network

Although 100RC has transitioned, key regional leaders from our organization along with many of the cities themselves are announcing a new city-led effort at WUF10 called the Global Resilient Cities Network. Cities helping cities through peer-to-peer networks is one crucial component if we are to successfully meet the challenges of 21st Century urbanization. I am excited and supportive of this new effort, because these are many of the people (CROs and GRCN staff) that have helped shape in very tangible ways what we mean by urban resilience. I hope they continue to innovate, inspire us, expand the resilience movement and keep this pioneering network strong for years to come.

Follow us on Twitter @Resilient Cities Catalyst for updates on the World Urban Forum.

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Catalytic change to help cities solve their most pressing challenges.

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