‘Resilience’: A supersized idea for complicated places

I am preparing two new next practice synopsis papers for local practitioners of ‘resilience.’  The papers draw upon my involvements since 2002 with organizational strategies, programs, and businesses that have been establishing this new practice area. The first paper is posted here. RZ paper sept2016

In 2002, when some of us met to instigate what became the Resilient Cities Campaign of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, the idea of resilience was pretty straightforward: how to better design and manage cities, and how to better support and organize communities to reduce exposure to catastrophic events, and to recover from them. The hazards of concern were of direct and immediate consequence —earthquakes, for instance. Their probabilities were understood, as were their associated risks, such as shoddy building practices, as in the Izmit earthquake of 1999.

Then, by the mid-2000s, the same hazards-focused approach was adapted to address lesser understood risk exposures, such as climate change risk, under the banner of resilience. A few years later, the scope of the resilience agenda was expanded further, altogether beyond that of disaster risk reduction, to place focus on the capacity of communities to adapt and bounce back from a wider range of challenges, such as the local decline of an anchor industry.

Even more recently, the scope of resilience has been expanded to consider the broad ability of communities to thrive. This ‘whole of systems’ framing is perhaps most influentially represented by the City Resilience Framework (CRF) prepared by Arup for the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities program. Resilience, they propose, has to be understood as the enhancement of the overall performance of a system or city in the face of the full range of hazards and their compounding effects. In other words, the entry point into resilience has switched fundamentally from a focus on hazards and disaster risk reduction to a focus on performance. The CRF raises resilience to the stature of a new development paradigm in the tradition of modern city planning.

Such a supersizing of the resilience concept risks a loss to its practicability. Within this context, the first paper presents the logic of what I call a performance risk management approach to resilience. The approach addresses the practice challenges associated with the conventional, hazards-focused approach (e.g., as used for climate adaptation planning) and I hope also addresses challenges with the normative developmental approach as advanced, for instance, by Arup/100 Resilient Cities.

The second paper will address the issue of business case development for resilience strategies, with particular reference to the whole-of-systems approach. Perhaps the greatest challenge confronting both hazards-focused and normative (i.e., CRF) approaches to resilience/risk management is creating a case for rational economic actors to assume the added costs associated with managing:

i) long-term exposures (e.g., sea level rise)
ii) systemic risks (e.g., population health)
iii) collective risk exposures, say at the scale of a district, for which there is no corporate or even institutional liability (e.g., roadway flooding or currency exchange risks)

Many needed risk management measures will only attract resources if they increase the ability of enterprises and institutions to manage their current, often short-term risk management priorities — in other words, to increase their current business performance. The idea of ‘co-benefits’ from resilience investments is being used as a proxy for actual business case development, but the two are hardly the same. The second paper will summarize contributions by others to define the elements of a business case, and also draw upon TNP’s research to highlight some of the requirements for a real business case.

More soon.

New speaking engagements

It’s been a busy season for speaking engagements. The thesis of my book-in-progress (The Productive City ) has now been advanced sufficiently for presentation. Recent keynotes on the theme have included the annual European Conference on Sustainable Cities and Towns and the annual conference of the European Green Party. It’s been enriching to explore the business and economic development possibilities of urban productivity (my focus) with the world’s local practice leaders on urban resource productivity.

Meanwhile, work continues on the ‘resilience’ practice front. The Resilience Zones planning framework for redevelopment/regeneration projects has evolved into a more broadly applicable performance risk management approach to resilience, including for local economic development strategies. Speaking engagements on this topic have included the Inter-American Development Bank’s conference on “The Challenge and Opportunity of Private Sector Climate Resilience,” and the annual conference of Local Government New Zealand. I’ll soon Brugmann-Bilbao presentation-2016post more on the subject.

Santa Ana City Council votes 7-0 to adopt ‘Wellness District’ strategy

June 2, 2015 After a year of research, coalition building, and program design by community leaders, and then constructive negotiations with the city council and city manager, the City of Santa Ana unanimously adopted a ‘wellness district’ strategy for the renewal of the city’s historic downtown. Over the past decade, downtown renewal efforts have pursued a more typical gentrification course. The area’s legacy as a district of Latino stores, cultural institutions, and residential life has been increasingly displaced. With displacement came increased pressures on the health and wellness of central Santa Ana residents. For instance, research undertaken by TNP indicated how much residents were eating food from gas station convenience stores during their downtown shopping trips. Obesity and adult onset diabetes are a major health issue for the population.

The new wellness strategy is comprehensive. The Council resolution  focuses on the re-establishment of Latino identity, community serving small businesses, cultural facilities, safe streets and active transportation options, urban agriculture, and anti-displacement policies—making resident wellness the core principle of downtown renewal.

TNP is proud to have been an economic development strategy advisor over the course of this initiative, which is one of 14 community-based initiatives in the Building Healthy Communities program of The California Endowment. Onward to implementation!

‘Resilience’ can be a new form of urban performance—if we plan for it.

ResilienceZone_East Bayfront17Properties and locations that can consistently deliver promised benefits, under the widest range of circumstances, will stand out in the market. They may even command a premium. Local Area Risk Management, our comprehensive risk management framework, supports the preparation of resilience elements for urban regeneration plans. See our case study for Resilience Precinct: East Bayfront, Toronto 

What’s Next? Exploring the concept of urban productivity

A wide variety of strategic agendas for urban development have gained parlance over the last decades. These range from ‘competitive cities’ to ‘healthy’ and ‘livable’ cities to ‘sustainable’ cities, while in more recent years ‘smart’, ‘resilient’, and ‘regenerative’ have gained popularity.

This breadth of agendas for our cities has not provided a comprehensive, foundation concept that can be used in mainstream property and urban development decision-making.

The Next Practice has co-launched the Urban Productivity Collaborative with ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability to develop the concept of ‘urban productivity’ – and how it can provide project design and evaluation metrics to establish the local economic case for sustainable development and management in the decades ahead. In May, the Collaborative held its inaugural meeting – joined by members of Curtin University, Simon Fraser University (SFU), the City of Canning, Institute for Advanced Sustainable Studies (IASS), Zuyd University, ICLEI Europe, ICLEI Southeast Asia and The Next Practice in Bonn, Germany to discuss how our proposed urban productivity concept can be developed and applied.