The small city that is blazing a resilience trail
David Thorpe | 24 March 2016
The first “resilience strategy” for a European city aims to help turn the challenges facing Vejle, Denmark into opportunities and build its long-term capacity to survive and thrive, no matter the stresses and shocks the city experiences.
Velje says its ambition is to become a “lighthouse” to “demonstrate how small cities can solve big problems and show great responsibility”.
A resilience strategy is about understanding the shocks and stresses facing a city. In Vejle’s case these include climate change and flood risk, urban growth, the demand for smart and inclusive infrastructure, economic and industrial change, demographic changes and social cohesion.
The next stage is to map the existing baseline of resilience-building activities within a city, then to develop a menu of practical actions to turn these challenges into opportunities.
The strategy was developed using comprehensive engagement with branches of government, business and civil society and released during a week of city-wide activities, including performances by schools and community groups. Vejle’s challenges are addressed through four strategic pillars (co-creation, smart infrastructure, and climate and social resilience) that frame 12 goals and 100 resilience actions.
The strategy is intended to cover the next five years till 2020 and will eventually contain 100 initiatives. Forty-one were identified through meetings and consultations and the rest will be developed during the next five years. Updates will be posted on Velje’s website. The tasks are owned by the city council and the committees and administrations that undertake the work.
Shape has been given to the process by a City Resilience Framework developed in partnership with consultants Arup and The Rockefeller Foundation and members of the organisation it sponsors: 100 Resilient Cities. This network contains cities from across the world that are developing a resilience roadmap and sharing best practice to tackle the physical, social and economic challenges facing the 21st century. The Australian members of the network are Melbourne and Sydney.
Velje’s municipality is arguing that the strategy will not only minimise risks and costs but create value and “create stability and safety, increase our welfare conditions, our spirit of entrepreneurship, and our investments and business development opportunities”.
For example, part of the city faces the prospect of flooding from the fjord, so the strategy includes actions such as installing a sluice and water distribution system to minimise this risk. A cycle superhighway is planned through the city to reduce congestion and reliance on cars, thereby improving air quality.
Social cohesion is to be enhanced by promoting the growing of local food by communities, tackling drug addiction and a project whereby existing residents of two neighbourhoods will welcome new residents and help them settle in their new homes.
To embed the strategy in future decision-making, the municipality has created a city resilience officer post and is developing a new organisational structure.
Vejle is the first of 11 city strategies Arup is currently supporting as a strategy partner; others include Byblos, Bristol and Glasgow.
“In promoting actions that address past, present and future challenges, Vejle is now equipped to thrive in the face of uncertainties and has most definitely secured its place on the international stage for resilience thinking,” Arup associate director Paula Kirk said. “It is a leading example globally in pioneering innovative approaches to social and smart resilience. Other cities can only benefit from following Vejle and securing a safe and resilient future for their citizens.”
What is resilience?
As a concept, resilience helps cities to bridge the gap between disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. Whereas traditional disaster risk management relates to specific hazards, resilience acknowledges the existence of a wide range of possible but unpredictable disruptive events. In attempting to cater for these, multiple challenges facing a city can be addressed simultaneously.
Members of the 100 Resilient Cities network meet regularly to develop their understanding, and they have identified that leadership and coordination, holistic urban planning and strategy crucial factors in success. Cities must be able to learn from each other and from the past, to be robust, resourceful, inclusive, flexible, and include spare capacity.
The City Resilience Framework comprises 12 key goals in four categories that describe the fundamental outcomes of a resilient city as expressed in the following diagram.
Twenty-three cities around the world have now signed a pledge to spend at least 10 per cent of their budgets on resilience. All cities are being invited to sign up to this pledge.
David Thorpe is the author of:
- Best Practices and Case Studies for Industrial Energy Efficiency Improvement (with Oung, K. and Fawkes, S. UNEP, 2016)
- A London Conversation: Business Briefing on Green Bonds (The Fifth Estate, 2015)
- The One Planet Life (Introduction: Jane Davidson. Routledge, 2015)
- Earthscan Expert Guide to Energy Management in Buildings (Earthscan, 2013)
- Earthscan Expert Guide to Energy Management in Industry (Earthscan, 2013)
- Earthscan Expert Guide to Solar Technology (Earthscan, 2011)
- Earthscan Expert Guide to Sustainable Home Refurbishment (Earthscan, 2010)