Resilient Cities - discussions at Clinton Global Initiative

Resilient Cities - discussions at Clinton Global Initiative

  • by Architecture for Humanity
  • Oct 01, 2012
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Some of the leading design professionals gathered at this year's annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, which focused on the theme "Designing for Impact." Issues ranged from design as a tool for ideation to design as a tool for addressing systemic issues such as climate change. At a session focused on "Resilient Cities" a group focused on some of the challenges faced by cities increasingly vulnerable to disaster, both man-made and natural. Small group charrettes developed action plans for six major cities around the world in an effort to explore ideas and approaches to making cities more prepared and able to cope with change.

Lt. Governor of California and former Mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom kicked the session off with opening remarks and shared some of the changes he made to make San Francisco more disaster ready. Architecture for Humanity co-founder Kate Stohr attended the meeting and helped facilitate the charrette. Among the participants were Bill McDonough, sustainability guru, Mary Fetchet, founding director of Voices of September 11th, and Elizabeth Heider, Senior Vice President at Skanska and current USGBC Board President.

The session marked a turning point in the movement to keep disaster mitigation on the forefront of the planning agenda for cities around the world. We hope it will be the first of many Clinton Global Initiative meetings on this issue.

Fast Facts

1. Today, more than half of the world population—some 3.6 billion people—
live in urban areas and the number of urban dwellers is growing. According to the 2011 United Nations Population Division global forecasts, it is expected that half of the population of Asia will live in urban areas by 2020, while Africa is likely to reach a 50 percent urbanization rate in 2035. (i)

2. According to a 2007 study by the UK-based charity Oxfam, the number of natural disasters around the world has increased fourfold in the last 20 years. It found that the earth is currently experiencing approximately 500 natural disasters per year, compared with 120 per year in the early 1980s. (ii)

3. The Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011 took the lives of nearly 20,000 people and destroyed more than 100,000 buildings. (iii) The direct impact of the Earthquake and resulting Tsunami and nuclear power reactor failure is estimated at 17 trillion yen (US$220 billion). The indirect impact is estimated between 35 and 60 trillion yen.

4. According to the 2012 Global Risks survey of 500 professionals released by the World Economic Forum, the top most likely global risk was: “Severe income disparity” while the global risk thought to have the greatest potential impact was “Major systemic financial failure.” Survey respondents included “Water supply crises” in the top five of both lists.

5. Globally, the price of water rose on average by 6.7% in 2011 according to the research firm, Global Water Intelligence. The median prices per cubic meter of water are $1.13 in the US, $0.35 in China, and $0.11 in India. The most expensive place to turn on the tap or flush the toilet is Aarhus, Denmark at $10 per cubic meter. (iv)

6. According to a report by the World Bank, between 300,000 and 400,000 people migrate to Bangladesh’s capital city Dhaka annually, making it one of the world’s fastest growing megacities. Many move to the capital fleeing storms, floods and crop damage in low-lying rural areas. (v)

7. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, food prices reached an all-time high in February 2011. Apart from a peak in the early 1970s, the global cost of food declined on average from the early 1960s until 2002, since when it has started an upward trend.

8. China invests 9% of its GDP in infrastructure. Europe invests 5% of its GDP in infrastructure. The United States invests 2.4% of its GDP in infrastructure. (vi)

9. “America’s Infrastructure Report Card,” prepared by the American Society of Civil Engineers assessed the United State’s critical infrastructure in categories from aviation to energy to waste management. The report gave a poor grade or “D” in 11 out of 15 categories assessed. No category received a grade better than a C+.

10. China will have an estimated 221 cities with a population of a million or more by 2025. Today, Europe only has 35 such cities. (vii) At the same time, according to Forensic Asia there are an estimated 65 million unoccupied apartments in China, room enough to house 190 million people. Recent vacancy tests support this statistic and suggest that vacancy rates could be as high as 50% nation-wide and over 60% in Beijing. (viii)

Resilience in Practice

Ethiopia has adopted performance indicators linked to investments in infrastructure and municipal services in 19 cities that together comprise 42% of its urban population. Today citizen satisfaction with municipal service delivery has grown by 20% since 2007 and government revenue has increased by 25% in eight cities since the program began. (ix)

The share of electricity produced from renewable energy in Germany has increased from 6.3 percent of the national total in 2000 to about 25 percent in the first half of 2012, employing some 370,000
people. (x)

In 2009 the city of Shenzhen, China was approved as one of 13 cities to pilot new energy vehicle technology. Today it has a fleet of more than 2500 electric buses, taxis and charging stations—the largest in the world. In 2011, China made a commitment to build 100 model ‘new-energy’ cities by 2015. (xi)

In 2001, recognizing a need to find common solutions to transit, environmental and security issues and to improve regional competitiveness and productivity, the Bogota Regional Planning Board was created. Over the course of the next three years 2754 government officials participated in 132 workshops. The result was a stronger regional economy. In 2002 there were 492 multinational companies based in the region, today there are 1,361. (xii)

In 1976 the Cheonggye stream in Seoul, Korea was covered to make way for a new expressway aimed at speeding traffic and eliminating congestion. By 2001 the Cheonggye expressway was one of the most congested and noisy areas of the city. The city committed to remove the highway and restore the stream. At the same time it undertook an aggressive traffic management program. The park and stream has generated a 30% increase in adjacent real estate values, while traffic has decreased by 9%. In addition, the park, which is cooler than the surrounding city, helps to mitigate the “urban heat island” effect. (xiii)

Since 2002 the city of Melbourne, Australia has practiced total water-cycle management. It’s ‘City as a Catchment’ approach reduces water consumption by reducing demand, by managing artificial catchment areas (roads, roofs and impermeable surfaces) and by implanting large-scale storm water harvesting schemes. The result is a 39% reduction in water consumption per resident since 2000. (xiv)

Recognizing that 8.5 million of its citizens live in close proximity to volcanoes in a region prone to earthquakes and floods, Mexico City implemented a streamlined emergency response system. Called “Safe City,” the program aims to prevent, detect and respond to natural disasters and security related issues. Since its introduction in emergency response times were reduced from 12 minutes to five minutes, and crime fell by 12% in the first year. (xv)

In 2001 the city of Vaxjo, Sweden, adopted an eco Budget and systematically combined it with the city’s financial accounting system. Management of natural resources now undergoes the same monetary scrutiny as the city’s finances. Since then the city CO2 emissions per capita have decreased by 30% while its gross regional product per capita has increased by 50%. (xvi)

  1. What do you see at the top three greatest global risks facing cities today?
  2. Researches describe a world where cities are increasingly competing against each other regionally—and globally. They describe a world of urban winners and losers. How accurate is this view?
  3. What do we need to do to “future proof” our cities?
  4. What role can culture play in making a city more resilient
  5. It seems the systems we use to manage critical infrastructure are becoming increasingly complex—and interconnected. What does that mean for the future of the design and construction?
  6. How can politicians—who serve for relatively short terms—act knowledgeably in the face of these ever-evolving complex systems?
  7. How do you evaluate risks in contemplating a development opportunity? Whose role is it to mitigate development risks?
  8. How should we think about the scope of resilience? Is it more important to plan at the urban scale or at the regional scale?
  9. How does a city remain competitive economically while protecting its natural resources and the environment?
  10. How important is redundancy and how can we build that into development practice?
  11. We talk a lot about urbanization and population growth. However, we don’t talk about population decline. You made a billion dollars of investment in green infrastructure in the Netherlands. With population rates declining across Europe and the developing world, how do we plan for shrinking cities?
  12. Economists at Siemens, a provider of infrastructure technology estimate the global market for infrastructure is $2.8 billion annually, and they add that 50% of that growth will come from emerging markets such as India and Brazil. Traditionally it was the role of government to invest infrastructure. Yet, governments are under enormous fiscal pressure. How will this demand be met?
  13. What should we be doing to strengthen and plan for rural economies?


i World Urbanization Prospects 2011 Revision (PDF), United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division, March 2011.
ii Natural Disasters Up More Than 400 Percent in Two Decades, Natural News
iii National Police Agency figure (PDF), 2011.
iv Global Water Tariffs continue upward trend, Global Water Intelligence, September 2011
v Dhaka: Improving Living Conditions for the Urban Poor (PDF), Bangladesh Development Series Paper No. 17, World Bank Office Dhaka, June 2007
vi US Infrastructure Lagging Far Behind Europe, Homeland Security Newswire, 2 May 2011
vii McKinsey & Co. report Preparing for China's urban billion March 2009
viii Forensic Asia, Data Obfuscation by Gillem Tulloch on 17 January 2011
ix Urban Anthologies: Learning from our cities" senseable city lab, MIT
x Crossing the 20% Mark: Green energy use jumps in Germany, Spiegel Online International, 2011-08-30
xi China to build 100 new-energy model cities, April 2012, China Daily
xii “Urban Anthologies: Learning from our cities” senseable city lab, MIT
xiii “Urban Anthologies: Learning from our cities” senseable city lab, MIT
xiv “Urban Anthologies: Learning from our cities” senseable city lab, MIT
xv “Urban Anthologies: Learning from our cities” senseable city lab, MIT
xvi “Urban Anthologies: Learning from our cities” senseable city lab, MIT

Image of Chongqing by Flickr user Bert Van Dijk