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The Role of Technology is City Resilience

Huda Shaka, Associate Director, Arup
Huda Shaka, Associate Director, Arup

Huda Shaka, Associate Director, Arup

As an urban planner, I spend a lot of time thinking about how we can plan for ‘better’ cities in the future. What does better mean? One way to answer this question is to look towards the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), formulated through extensive global consultation and adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015. Specifically, Goal 11 is the one which speaks to me the most: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. I would like to focus on one specific aspect of this goal–resilient cities.

Firstly, what does resilience mean for a city? Arup took up the challenge of addressing this question and providing a tangible, practical, and evidence-based response. After three years of research, case studies, and pilot schemes conducted in diverse cities across the world, we developed the City Resilience Index (CRI) in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation to articulate and assess urban resilience. This framework has since been used by over 100 cities worldwide.

In a nutshell, city resilience is “the capacity of cities (individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems) to survive, adapt, and thrive no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience”. It is a concept which acknowledges the complexity of the city’s systems, and the inevitably of disruptions to them, and seeks to strategically and proactively build in flexibility and robustness to help cities ‘bounce back’. In addition to natural disasters and climate risks, disruptions can include economic, political, social, and health challenges–such as a pandemic.

The CRI framework is divided into four dimensions: people, organization, place, and knowledge. A total of twelve goals set the priorities across these dimensions, and are underpinned by 52 indicators, and over 150 questions to allow the assessment of a city’s performance against the framework.

 In a nutshell, city resilience is the capacity of cities (individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems) to survive, adapt, and thrive no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience 

Secondly, what is the role of technology in building city resilience? There are several layers to this answer. One of the twelve goals identified in the framework is “Reliable Communications and Transport”. A primary indicator for the level of achievement of this goal is a city’s information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure. The framework focuses not just on the availability of ICT infrastructure, but more importantly on its effectiveness, reliability, and accessibility to all, including the most vulnerable. Digital technology is also an enabler for achieving other goals, including comprehensive security, sustainable economy, and effective leadership and management. Furthermore, technology (from IoT to big data) can help us better assess a city’s resilience in an evidence-based way allowing city actors to understand and address vulnerabilities in current systems.

The city of Rotterdam provides an interesting example of how technology can underpin a city’s resilience strategy. One of the objectives of Rotterdam’s resilience strategy is becoming a “cyber port city”. This includes promoting digital safety and investing in cyber security to ensure that it continues to be an attractive international business and trade hub. In terms of tangible projects, Rotterdam has developed “Inspiration Maps” which pool and mine GIS data to provide a digital footprint of what lies underground. This facilitates more efficient and effective design and decision making around public space and infrastructure in the city.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many of the vulnerabilities of our complex and interconnected cities. Technology is an essential piece in improving urban resilience.

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