#3 – CITY LEADERS SPEAK: Maintaining Vision in a World with Increasing Risks
The Covid-19 pandemic has made clear that one crisis quickly begets another. The climate extremes that have been impacting cities in recent years – floods, droughts, cyclones – collide with existing challenges of aging and inadequate urban infrastructure, preventing cities from full economic recovery. Cascading risks have become more apparent in recent years, as cities can barely recover from an extreme weather event or natural disaster, before being struck with a follow-on terrorist attack, civil unrest, or other social disruptions. The impacts of these events have been significantly magnified by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
This third session of Cities on the Frontline, highlighted a key discussion among city leaders that took place during the Understanding Risk Asia Conference (UR Asia) in December 2021, focusing on the importance of maintaining a clear vision in a world with increasing risks. For this insightful discussion we were accompanied by Hemali Boghawala, Mayor of the City of Surat, Mike Gillooly, Former Chief Resilience Officer of the City of Christchurch, and Elaine Tan, Deputy Director at the Center for Livable Cities in Singapore.
To begin the conversation city leaders emphasized the importance of working in a resilient manner when facing risk in their cities, where disruption has now become the new normal with eminent threats coming from climate change, urbanization and globalization. As the Mayor of Surat said, “the cost of doing nothing is much higher than the cost of doing something”.
In order to start building resilience, Elaine points out, it is important to keep in mind that this task it is not something that can be achieved overnight and that it entails a process of engaging both the “hardware” with good infrastructure but also the “software” with the involvement of the community. By using this approach to work with cities, communities are not only able to survive but also overcome and thrive in the face of adversity.
From past and future crisis these leaders were able to learn a lot of important lessons and some of them include the importance of combining a bottom-up aspirations with top-down national goals, the importance of having a clear and well-structured legislative framework to determine specific lines of action that guide a homogenized process and the importance of setting up long them planning that is accessible to all city dwellers. However, the main point that the city leaders drove through in the conversation is the key role that collaboration must have in all these processes to build a truly resilient future. This means involving the intertwined and interconnected urban systems composed of the national and city governments, industries, communities, among others. Mike urged this point by expressing it is especially important to engage the community and create trust and lines of communication with them as governments are not able to do drive change without their guidance.
The challenges for the visionary leaders of tomorrow are significant due to cascading risk that have slowly set themselves as the new normal therefore they must be equipped with the skills and expertise to be able to galvanize and unite communities to respond to multiple ongoing risks in a resilient and equitable manner.
Mayor of the City of Surat
“To address instability and economic uncertainty, the continuous engagement of people is key, along with the involvement of all industries in the city.”
Former Chief Resilience Officer of the City of Christchurch
“Climate change, globalization and urbanization are relatively new phenomenon that cities in the earliest centuries did not have to face at this scale. So, it is incumbent on cities to have a clear idea of how to set & organize principles around how they frame up future disruption.”
Deputy Director at the Center for Livable Cities in Singapore
“The infrastructure hardware resilience has got to do a lot with the community resilience, the software side of things, so, it’s only by tackling the hardware while engaging the software aspects that you can truly build a resilient city.”