December 9, 2023

Helping Policymakers and Stakeholders Understand Risk and Design Effective Policies for Urban Resilience

According to a report developed by Economist Impact and supported by the Tokio Marine Group, "The world is facing unprecedented challenges. Extreme weather events, from hurricanes and wildfires to flooding and heatwaves, are becoming more frequent and their effects more devastating." Furthermore, "Emerging risks like cyber-attacks loom larger as technology dependence deepens. Our cities are exposed to all of these risks and more. Lives and livelihoods depend on our ability to understand and mitigate the evolving threats to our urban centers."

The Resilient Cities Index highlights three phases to resilience. "Preparation and mitigation come first. Understanding the risks, how they are evolving and taking steps to minimize their impact is essential if cities are to avoid the worst. The second phase is response, necessitating swift reactions and timely assistance to save lives and diminish the impact when disasters occur. Last is recovery, emphasizing the need to learn from tragedies and rebuild stronger, better-equipped communities for future shocks and stresses."

Aiming to help policymakers and stakeholders understand risk and design effective policies for urban resilience, Economist Impact developed a benchmark of 25 cities. To gauge the resilience of these cities, the report's authors took measurements across four pillars: critical infrastructure, environment, socio-institutional and economic. This white paper combines index analysis with expert commentary to identify patterns, common strengths, deficits and best practices across index cities.

Key findings from the inaugural edition of the Resilient Cities Index include:
  • Cities performed well in the critical infrastructure pillar of the index, but there are some weak points that require strategic focus. The cities with the highest scores were Dubai, Shanghai, New York and Singapore. These capital-rich market locations have greater opportunities to develop new infrastructure, compared with European cities constrained by decades- or centuries-old systems. Within this pillar, digital infrastructure and transportation were a drag on cities' resilience.
  • Cities that use data and technology to create operational efficiencies and share information with their citizens—i.e., smart cities—are better at dealing with shocks. Patchy internet quality, which can impede access to digital services, pulled down the overall resilience score in the critical infrastructure pillar. Digital technologies and advanced data analytics can help to predict risks, optimize existing systems and keep the public informed. Greater digitalization comes with risks, especially to critical infrastructure, but most cities in the index have built safeguards against this.
  • Most emerging economy cities lack adequate regulatory frameworks, strategies and incentives for futureproofing infrastructure. Only a few cities in the index achieved high scores for future-proofing, which involves ensuring infrastructure preparedness for shocks while managing current and future emissions. One way cities can future-proof is by incentivizing sustainable designs for buildings, such as installing green roofs, incorporating modularity and retrofitting for energy efficiency—a practice only found in high-income cities in the index.
  • Efforts to achieve environmental resilience are led by innovative solutions. Cities are employing a variety of nature-based solutions to adapt to flooding and heat stress, from planting rooftop vegetation and mangrove forests (green infrastructure) to rehabilitating wetlands (blue infrastructure). Cities are also decarbonizing by adopting renewable energy and negative emission technologies, such as carbon capture, storage and removal. However, the scalability of these technologies is likely to be challenging for resource-constrained emerging market cities.
  • Cities demonstrated poorer performance in the socio-institutional pillar, mostly due to income inequality and poor health and well-being metrics. Only nine cities have a single, comprehensive plan to support vulnerable groups. However, one bright spot is that cities are promoting a culture of readiness to act in the event of a disaster. The majority of cities scored highly on this or are working to improve their readiness.
  • Cities had the lowest average scores in the economic pillar, dragging down some cities that performed well in other areas. The low penetration of financial safety nets hinders safeguards against threats and undermines a city's ability to recover from shocks. Another aspect of economic resilience is a city’s ability to incubate innovation, which can foster solutions to a range of problems, from congestion to water stress. Unfortunately, most cities scored poorly on the indicator for start-up ecosystems.

The report's conclusion points out that "A resilient city is not only prepared for shocks but has the ability to bounce back and thrive. Recognizing both existing and looming threats will help cities better understand their vulnerabilities and design targeted actions. However, building such cities requires stakeholders from government, businesses and communities, as well as individual city-dwellers, to engage in holistic resilience thinking at community and municipality levels."

Moreover, "While resilience needs to be tackled in myriad ways, a number of critical strategies have been identified in the course of this research and are summarized below."
  • Empower the community to be active participants. This is contingent on the democratization of information. All city-dwellers should have equal access to government information, including what to do in an emergency. Some cities, like Singapore, do this very well, using digital channels to disseminate information to everyone simultaneously. Fostering a culture of readiness and the ability to manage hazards will require investment to train and educate people at governing and grassroots levels to be stewards of their city. Recognizing that information is key, municipalities could consider partnering with a digital platform to minimize misinformation and ensure the city moves in one direction, despite disruption.
  • Social cohesion efforts need greater advancement across the board. Cities are nothing without the people who inhabit them. Greater attention to social cohesion will help to ensure cities are less fragmented, adaptive and better prepared for shocks. City governments should overlay resilience efforts with initiatives that aim to improve the lives of urban residents. This process should be driven by city leadership and engage civil society. The majority of cities in the index have some way to go to strengthen social cohesion through integration programs for society's most vulnerable.
  • Early warning systems (EWS) are vital for safe cities but investment is needed to hit the 2027 target. National governments and municipality leaders will have to collaborate to ensure universal early warning systems coverage by 2027. There are two challenges that need to be met. First, capital is needed to bridge the investment gap for technologies with a greater push for the development and adoption of frontier and horizon tech–from drones to AI. Second, governments need to facilitate the necessary legislation to connect these EWS to emergency and response plans to ensure there are protocols and resources in place to deal with climate extremes and hazards. Community acceptance and responsiveness to early warnings are essential in the effectiveness of EWS. This can be achieved through systematic training and education and awareness programs.

What do you think of the report's findings and conclusions? Do you have additional recommendations on how policymakers and stakeholders understand risk and design effective policies for urban resilience?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

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