Those three questions are asked in a short article, by way of pondering if cities can thrive in turbulent times. The authors start with the sobering fact that so many of us have already taken stock of; even with all the good intentions of the beginning of the pandemic, we can’t take the hoped-for positive feedback loops for granted. Australia’s recovery for example was largely gas-powered. Calls for growth and the prioritizing of rebuilding the economy as it once was are already supplanting calls for rebuilding different and better.
“Are disruption and uncertainty the new normal in cities?”
There are at least three compounding crises facing cities today — the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, the worsening impacts of a changing climate, and growing urban inequality. In the last year alone, extreme weather events — such as deadly fires, flooding and heat waves — and the coronavirus pandemic’s global impact suggest that these challenges are ‘planetary’ in nature; no corner of the world is immune to their effects.
The answer to that first question seems to be yes, cities are in a new normal. Climate change is not going away, and even if everyone agreed to reduce inequality everywhere, it would likely years to make solid progress.
“Can resilient cities be inclusive and sustainable?”
This is one of those “catch-22” situations bound to pop-up everywhere. Building resilient cities, right now anyway, is often done by building bigger, adding redundancy, etc. More resilient but not more sustainable if that’s not done, at the very least, differently than before. So unfortunately, as laudable as they may be, some “objectives can be at odds with each another and reconciling them may create tricky urban planning dilemmas.”
“How can cities best learn and apply lessons?“
While city learning has become more systematic, there is much room to improve how cities learn. For example, knowledge capture and exchange could be made more effective if both monitoring systems and funding allocations adapted to support deep learning about technical topics as well as organizational processes.
Cities can learn from each other through collaboration, but the people within those administrations and departments also need to work according to practices, training, and policies which allow them to document their learning, share it, and transmit it forward and across departments. Not an easy task.
Just three questions, but important ones with a lot of potential solutions but also a lot of work to develop and implement them.
Photo: World Resources Institute, prize for cities.