Resilient Cities Network: how can we build local resilience on the global scale?
How can we promote localised resilience-building on a global scale? This is the big question that the Resilient Cities Network (RCN) is concerned with today! What room is there for resilience in the decision-making and day-to-day operations of cities around the world? To strive to turn disruption into an opportunity to evolve, to bounce forward and to build back better. Leon Kapetas, lead for RCN in Europe and the Middle East, spoke at UIC Barcelona to the Master Programme City Resilience Design & Management exactly about this matter.
What is the Resilient Cities Network?
The RCN emerged from the 100 Resilient Cities Program (100RC) in 2019, as we explained in detail interviewing Braulio Morera last year. The 100RC started in 2013 with the Rockefeller Foundation funding two endeavours with a total budget of $164 million for 5 years. Firstly, they successfully promoted and advocated for the importance of urban resilience on a global scale. Secondly, they progressed a localised urban resilience agenda in the selected cities by developing a robust resilience strategy in each city, enacting a city resilience officer (CRO) in charge of releasing this strategy, and by incorporating each city in a global network of public/private partners, NGOs and of course the other member cities, in order to facilitate peer-to-peer learning.
The RCN is the city-led organisation that came forth from this global network, now comprising 97 member cities, most of which also took part in 100RC, and aims to continue supporting cities and their CRO’s in future-proofing their communities and critical infrastructure. The RCN, in similar fashion to 100RC, brings together global knowledge, practice, partnerships, and funding to empower the member cities to build a safer, more equitable, and sustainable future for all residents. The transition from 100RC to RCN happened quite abruptly, following a shift in the priorities of the Rockefeller Foundation. The Rockefeller Foundation’s new chair promised to focus on more measurable and short term impacts. The funding for 100RC was extensive, but the global city network was definitely the most valuable aspect to come out of this, which is why the RCN continued this work, only now with less funding and a more city-led approach.
Leon told us more about RNC’s approach and projects, which we are going to share with you in the following sections:
What is RCN’s approach to resilience-building?
As urbanisation continues to increase globally, resilience building needs to be embedded in city governance to ensure local vulnerabilities are managed. Although in some circumstances shocks and stresses can provide a city the opportunity to evolve or transform, the RCN encourages a proactive approach to resilience building which empowers member cities. They encourage a systems thinking approach to building urban resilience by addressing and focusing on a three phase framework:
- Empowering: supporting participation, collaboration and knowledge exchange and co-production among cities across the network to address their local resilience challenges
- Mobilising: early stage funding of projects through the Resilient Community Impact Fund (RCIF)
- Supporting implementation: city and CRO led implementation of resilience practices including utilisation of assessment and evaluation tools.
Leon emphasised that resilience practice is not something that can be achieved alone, and thus the governance framework of the RCN has been designed to support collaboration amongst CRO’s to boost a community of practice and boost resilience implementation. This governance includes an external Board of Directors which encourage the vision for resilient cities whilst the Global Steering Committee is responsible for steering the focus of the RCN.
Leon also highlighted the work of Paris as a leader among the network members in respect to advocacy, actions and participatory resilience processes. After joining the 100RC program in 2015, Paris committed to dedicating a minimum of 10% of its budget to resilience building efforts, and in October 2022 launched a review of the Paris Resilience Strategy (2017). This is a key example of local action for which learnings can be leveraged towards the global network, with the RCN a key actor continuing to support collaboration and learning between cities.
One of the interesting characteristics of how RCN is working is also how they are linking resilience to sustainability. In Europe for example, Leon explained how the network is considering and joining (or leading) projects on climate mitigation. Here we would like to introduce two of them.
The NetZeroCities project is seeking to support the net zero ambition of 100 cities in Europe. NetZeroCities supports the advancement of neutrality, including the development of a neutrality vision, action plan and climate budgeting. This project is driving action through a substantial funding allocation and collaboration across 37 partners, including Climate-KIC (a European Commission organisation). The purpose of the project is to understand the needs and challenges at the city scale and to apply a resilience lens to neutrality.
Students questioned which cities are leading in the application of resilience to neutrality to which Leon shared the case study of Sydney. Resilient Sydney is acknowledged as a leader in monitoring, evaluation and planning through a process which involves identifying the current state of emissions in different systems and benchmarking to compare progress across municipalities. This case study highlights the importance of collaboration across stakeholders and utilisation of technology to accurately monitor results, such as GIS mapping. Leon noted that although this is a benchmark case study, it may not be the aim to recreate this local framework at the global scale but rather actions need to be solved in response to local challenges and needs.
A second project mentioned by Leon that is currently in the pipeline of the RCN is the Planning & Design for Urban Prosperity by 2030 project, or UP2030 for short. This project is a collaboration of RCN and 46 other organisations such as municipalities, universities and NGOs, and aims to combine goals of resilience with those of equity, smart cities, and climate neutrality (such as with NetZeroCities), and thereby transform the practice of urban planning in light of the challenges of today. UP2030 encompasses eleven local pilot projects in different cities, each case discovering the intersectionalities between the different fields, and thereby facilitating city-to-city learning for the broader global network of transformation.
The 11 local pilot projects are the following:
Students questioned how localised solutions could effectively be applied to a more general global framework? For example, how can energy transitions in Rotterdam, a prosperous highly formalised city in the global north, be translated to the case of Rio de Janeiro, a city marked by the prominence of its informal settlements. The added advantage of a global framework such as UP2030 is to be able to produce resources such as guidelines and tools to facilitate localised problem solving in which a wider scope of perspectives has been integrated. Localised solutions can be advanced from city-to-city learning, and cross cultural cooperations, nonetheless, it is important to stay wary of the global north cities taking on a role of teachers to the global south.
This post introduced the RCN and how it works, and then shared current projects sounding far from resilience per se, but useful to illustrate the RCN effort in linking the transformative perspective of resilience to sustainability. Leon’s keynote allowed us to reflect on how these learnings from local cases can be applied and shared globally, as well as questioning and debating on practical aspects of resilience implementation, such as funding and the motivations of funding partners and keeping members of the network engaged.
As climate change presents new challenges for cities it is important to draw upon learnings from local resilience initiatives to understand how these learnings can be shared globally. Whilst initiatives such as the RCN provide a valuable platform for cities to share these learnings, it is important to acknowledge that other cities are also working independently on resilience building projects, and this is why it is key to understand and learn from each other how to do it. Here we are to share with you more from post to post.
Authors: Koen Dobbelaar & Rose Dagg