Exploring urban resilience — by Lauren Sorkin

By  | 2024

Floods and droughts. Economic crises and unforeseen pandemics. Citizen data breaches and the obsolescence of digital infrastructure. Threats to public security and the uncertain future posed by climate change. As apocalyptic as it may seem, cities face interconnected challenges of great magnitude, and the need to continue providing responses to them to ensure the well-being of people. Faced with this daunting array, one term emerges as a solution umbrella: urban resilience.

But what does urban resilience truly entail for a city? How can cities effectively integrate this essential component into their structural framework for the future — and what factors must they consider? In an upcoming episode of our series focusing on the trends shaping today’s urban landscape, we delve into the implications of urban resilience with Lauren Sorkin, Director of the Resilient Cities Network — an organization that collaborates with cities worldwide to precisely cultivate urban resilience.

#ExpertVoices | 2024 x E02

Exploring Urban Resilience
— by Lauren Sorkin —

What is resilience about?

We live in a world of constant challenges, as many are calling our era a poly-crisis era. Resilience is our ability to survive, to adapt, and to thrive in the face of challenges and change. So, being resilient and instituting resilience governance for the systems, the institutions that you need to be able to respond and not react when you are faced with a challenge, is essential when you are always being confronted with problems.

How can cities start to incorporate resilience structurally?

At Resilient Cities Network, and prior to that, 100 Resilient Cities, we created an office of a Chief Resilience Officer: someone who would look at city government in a holistic way, break down barriers between different departments, and also take a long-term view on the city’s development. So, that Chief Resilience Officer’s primary objective is to look at the risks and opportunities that a city faces in a holistic way, and then to set a pathway — a resilience strategy for the city to follow, and to help coordinate the different actors to do that. So, having a Chief Resilience Officer is one innovation and one really great way for cities to get started in that planning journey, and to bring not just the government but also the private sector and civil society along, because resilience is really a holistic undertaking where you really need your whole city to be aligned on one vision.

📣 What does #UrbanResilience truly entail for #cities — and how can it be built? #CitiesToBe by @Anteverti discusses this issue with Lauren Sorkin, Executive Director of @RCitiesNetwork 👇🏽 Clic para tuitear

How can digital resilience contribute to future-proof cities?

Digital resilience is important to define as we talk about it. We have two pathways in digital resilience — and both are equally important. Digital resilience actually refers to our abilities regarding our digital systems that we now take for granted in so many parts of the world: our ability to get online, to access our finances, to access the news, the weather information, really important alerts about what may be happening in our community. So, making sure that those systems — both the hard infrastructure, the actual connection, as well as the people who are connecting to that — are able to function in an emergency, in a shock situation, that is what we mean by one part of digital resilience. On the other hand, there is an opportunity, as you are asking, to use these kinds of digital technologies to better manage climate and sustainability challenges. And this is not new, what is new is that we have to integrate those capabilities.

Can you share a successful case of a city-led project to promote multidimensional urban resilience?

One of the biggest impacts of a changing climate is how our relationship with water is impacted. Cities are constantly struggling with either too much or too little water. Now, if we think in Europe where we are today, about one of the countries who has been dealing with water stress for the longest, of course, are the Netherlands. Now, in the Netherlands, they use a very great philosophy of ‘room for the river’ in most of their cities to allow water to have a place to go. Now, very specifically, we work with the city of Rotterdam as a member city and Resilient Cities Network, and they have a number of really fantastic techniques for managing water. One is ‘Water squares‘, where they build in the public space sunken areas that in good times serve as sport areas, places for community, theater gatherings, any kind of community activity. And in bad times, they are permeable, so they collect water and they keep it from going into the places where it would disrupt city activity. Now, back in 2016, we brought many cities to Rotterdam to learn from this example. And today, if you travel to India, to the city of Surat, you can see water squares being spread there. This is one kind of network activity, innovation and collaboration where solutions can really scale.

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Interview and edition by Sergio García i Rodríguez,
Head of Communication at Anteverti & CitiesToBe Executive Editor, and Marta Bugés.

Video by Eloy Calvo and Cristóbal Sarría Chitty

About the authors

Executive Director at Resilient Cities Network | + posts

As the Executive Director of the Resilient Cities Network, Lauren Sorkin leads global efforts in 100 cities across over 40 countries to address complex challenges such as climate change, equitable access to opportunities, and the promotion of a circular economy. Lauren also serves as an advisor and spokesperson on urban resilience, women's leadership, sustainable finance, climate risk, and urbanization trends. She holds positions on the Advisory Board of Food Tank, Natural Capital, and the Editorial Advisory Board of Smart Cities World. Previously, at the ADB, Lauren spearheaded the Bank's inaugural climate change investment plan and subsequently integrated climate risks and opportunities into Vietnam's US$7 billion portfolio. Earlier in her career, she executed clean energy, climate change, and conservation projects across Asia, Africa, and South America.

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