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3 Ways Cities Can Build Resilience

We have identified three steps for cities to survive — and thrive — in this new reality marked by climate impacts. 

City of Calgary

Published on August 06, 2021

Resilience strategy is an essential framework for cities in planning and recovering from all types of crises — from flooding risks to urban heat shocks. This is even more true in the time of climate change.

Cities play a key role in developing and effectively implementing resilience strategies to revitalize and improve urban areas.  

Over the last decade, Evergreen and Future Cities Canada have created resources, pioneered discussions, and built networks and the capacity of city-builders to advance resilience actions across Canada. Through this work, we have identified three steps for cities to survive — and thrive — in this new reality marked by climate impacts. 

Replace Short-term Plans with Long-term Strategy

Long-term vision has become crucial to navigating this period of intense uncertainty and complexity. Even before recent shocks, the Paris Agreement started pushing for plans and actions connected to a 30-year time horizon to produce meaningful, sustainable impact. Post-2020, it is evident for cities and governments that a short-term stimulus will need to intersect with a long-term recovery strategy. 

This shift, however, requires a refreshed set of tools and processes for decision-making. To build resilient communities, municipal staff, city builders and other decision-makers will need to look ahead to anticipate trends and issues that are possible even if not fully emerging.  

Strategic foresight is a field that enables practitioners to do just that — it enhances people’s capacity to detect, respond to, and learn from patterns of change. Through Future Cities Canada, we have adopted it to support our partner organizations and municipal governments across Canada to drive long-term strategic planning. In this Guide to Using Scenarios: Foresight for Resilient Cities we lay the foundations of the methodology as a starting point for city-builders and general audiences alike. 

Let Insights Drive the Investment in ‘Smart’ Data 

Smart cities are not a new concept. Cities have increasingly adopted data and technology solutions to measure and provide solutions for urban issues. The accelerated pace of digital adoption observed in the last year — with a fair share of pitfalls — demonstrated that data alone cannot solve systematic inequalities. On the contrary, the pandemic has only exacerbated long-standing barriers to access and operationalise data. 

Resilience emerges when cities can drive insights and policy change from the data. But inconsistent quality and interconnection of data make it difficult to trust the information and use it for analysis and decision-making. Uncovering users' needs and decision-making goals upfront to inform investment in technology and data is a way forward. 

Engaging stakeholders and facilitating a deep-dive exploration of issues and goals should be the first step in the process of designing and developing data solutions for resilience.  

Evergreen adopted this process to understand the higher risk and frequency impact posed by Urban Heat Island effects in cities. That lesson shaped our efforts and resources to develop a first pilot of the AI for the Resilient City application, developed in partnership with Gramener and the City of Calgary.  

Allowing the user needs and insights to drive the process, we uncovered key problems and gaps, in particular goals for community wellbeing. Urban heat is impacting marginalized and lower-income neighbourhoods to a larger extent than others. This insight informed the investment in technology and datasets that could provide a more comprehensive view of the city, prioritising key goals and maximising the future impact of the AI solution.  

Prioritize Collaboration  

Creating resilient cities goes beyond adopting more technology. It also touches upon having the right skills in the workforce. This has become evident with the increasing dependence on technology post-pandemic. The World Economic Forum predicted that 85 million jobs will be displaced by 2025 and 54 percent of all employees will require significant reskilling and upskilling by 2022. 

Urban and climate issues are increasingly complex and interdependent. As the future of work evolves through a more resilient economy lens, so the need for workers with a refreshed, expanded skills-set that goes beyond tech. In reality, the potential of technology for sustainability and climate resilience will be unlocked through a combination of factors such as  facilitating awareness, collaboration and multi-disciplinary partnerships that include technologists, scientists, industry, civil society, and governments. 

The challenge for cities is then two-fold: the right data will propel the right insights. The right skill-sets will boost these insights into the best resilience outcomes. 

Evergreen and Future Cities Canada have demonstrated the potential of convenings and bringing multi-disciplinary partners to co-create sustainable solutions.

Applying these lessons to a digital world, we have started programs focused on bridging skills gaps of cities in developing and adopting AI solutions to climate resilience. Through a grant from Microsoft’s AI for Earth program, the AI for the Resilient City application goes beyond an AI-data visualization tool for urban heat islands.

It also allows cities to connect and learn from data scientists, climate experts, civic collaboratives, non-profits and other Canadian and international cities. The result is an emergent network — with a multi-disciplinary lens to climate and urban issues — that collaborates and exchanges knowledge to create innovative solutions for resilience adaptation and mitigation. 

What’s Next

To learn more about our AI for the Resilient City program contact Nathalia Prieto at nprieto@evergreen.ca. Sign up for our newsletter to receive updates our resilience planning toolkits.