It is time to shift our vision of what constitutes cities of the future. Nowadays, cities should focus on integrating resilience into urban planning and development. This can be done via new and smarter technologies. Resilience refers to the adaptability of cities to survive and thrive regardless of shocks and stresses they may face, creating safer, and more sustainable and more resilient cities.
Cities are economic, political, and administrative hubs. They bring together millions of people, businesses, ideas, and foster innovation. Over 50% of the world’s population currently lives in cities, and this urbanisation will only intensify in the coming decades. It is expected that by 2050, around two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, and cities will become ever larger. Increased urbanisation may bring opportunities, but it also brings risks.
Cities will face greater challenges in the upcoming decades due to population growth, climate change, and resource scarcity. They must be able to effectively respond to these challenges, while simultaneously ensuring the well-being of their citizens, economic growth, and sustainability. To be able to meet the challenges of the future, cities have begun focusing on ‘smart strategies’, merging urban infrastructure and digital technology. These ‘smart cities’ rely on the Internet of Things and data analytics to develop solutions to urban problems, increase the efficiency of infrastructure and services, and improve citizens’ quality of life. For instance, sensors can be deployed throughout cities, collecting a variety of data, such as air pollution levels or water levels. Cloud computing allows large quantities of data to be stored, which can then be analysed with data analytics. Consequently, apps can be used to transmit this information to the general public, also allowing feedback. The collected data and feedback should be taken into account for future policies and urban designs that improve the quality of life of citizens. While the development of smart cities is a step in the right direction, it is necessary to go further than that, and to embrace resilience.
From Smart to Resilient: Harnessing Smart Strategies for Resilient Cities
Resilience is defined by the United Nations (UN) as “the ability to resist, absorb and accommodate to the effects of a hazard, in a timely and efficient manner”. Thus, resilient cities are those in which their citizens, businesses, and infrastructures have the capacity to withstand, adapt, and recover in a timely manner from any kind of hazards they face, either planned or unplanned. Resilience strategies do not focus on individual and isolated risks, but rather adopt a comprehensive approach that focuses on all types of risks, from chronic stresses such as unemployment and endemic violence, to acute shocks such as natural disasters and terrorist attacks. They focus on anticipating risks and developing pragmatic and localised solutions that can best manage these risks. In this manner, cities can continue effectively performing their functions in both normal and difficult times. The key aspect to the development of resilience cities is the need to involve local society. Citizens should be included not only in decision-making processes, but their quality of life should be at the centre of all strategies developed.
The concept of smart cities should not be discarded, but it should be embedded within a broader framework of resilient cities. In fact, smart technologies are instrumental in the development of resilience. New and innovative solutions may lie in the technology embedded in smart cities. For instance, sensors deployed around cities can be used to maintain databases on vulnerabilities which in turn can be used to develop warning and management systems. Cybersecurity is also another vital aspect underpinning resilience, due to the increasing digitalisation of critical infrastructures. Cities that effectively use new technologies, and successfully imbed them into urban planning and design will be more resilient to future challenges. This can also contribute to economic development due to increased productivity and continued economic activity, even in the case of disasters.
Fortunately, there exist recent initiatives aimed at promoting the concept of resilient cities. One of them is the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities programme, which is designed to advance urban resilience by awarding grants to cities that show commitment to building up their resilience. Another one is the “Making Cities Resilient” campaign spearheaded by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). Initiatives like these should be encouraged, and the shift to resiliency should be embraced. With the future being progressively more urban, cities should take responsibility for ensuring a sustainable, safe, and more liveable habitat for their citizens.