Greater Manchester pioneers city-level collaboration on urban resilience

Author(s) Kathy Oldham
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Manchester waterside
Greater Manchester City Council

Greater Manchester has a long history of international collaboration. Our residents and leaders have always understood the importance of being globally connected and aware of the benefits of internationalisation.

A collective approach to building urban resilience could not be more pressing, as cities across the world continue to grapple with COVID-19 and the challenges of climate change. Both issues illustrate how interconnected and interdependent our world has become – and how the consequences of global disasters directly impact our local communities.

Leading efforts to build urban resilience

As a metropolitan area with nearly three million residents, in Greater Manchester we have established a cross-sector, multi-stakeholder governance structure, published our Resilience Strategy, and set ourselves ambitious targets – such as our goal to be carbon neutral by 2038.

On the road to a more resilient future, we are now building on our engagement with the Resilient Cities Network, accessing leading-edge thinking and practice by joining the UNDRR’s Making Cities Resilient 2030 (MCR2030) programme, and offering to lend support to other cities by becoming a Resilience Hub.

COVID-19 has caused huge disruption to our global relationships and exposed economic and societal challenges locally and internationally. By offering to work together with other cities across the world, our collective resilience is strengthened; this enables us to tackle the challenges that are on the horizon – together. We know that our international links are vital to the city-region’s prosperity, allowing us to do business, share knowledge, and learn from our international partners.

As a member of the MCR2030 Regional Coordinating Committee for Europe and Central Asia, Greater Manchester is focused on this year’s thematic priorities, drawn from a survey of issues MCR2030 cities are most concerned about. Nature-based solutions and digital transformation are this year’s main themes – and I would like to illustrate how we have been working with other cities to collaboratively design ways in which we can all boost our resilience.

Projects focused on nature-based solutions and digital transformation

A wealth of demonstration projects has been implemented, including the transformation of a park east of Manchester city centre – from a little used, poor-quality green space to a treasured community asset packed full of nature-based solutions. Soon after construction finished, heavy rainfall from Storm Christoph threatened the over-topping of flood defences seen elsewhere in the city. However, the park’s nature-based solutions, which act to protect and restore natural ecosystems, bringing societal benefits and addressing the challenges posed by climate change, prevented local flooding.

By co-designing the park with community members, we have also strengthened community resilience, raising community awareness of flood risk, the importance of the natural environment, and the benefits that nature-based solutions can offer to health, wellbeing, and improved air quality.

High-quality green spaces and waterways can innovatively help urban resilience, addressing challenges such as flooding, heat stress, drought, poor air quality and unemployment – as well as helping biodiversity flourish. With all this at stake, the ground-breaking Horizon 2020 GrowGreen project – involving a range of stakeholders from seven cities in Europe and China –is investing in other nature-based solutions, beyond the park, to create healthy, liveable, climate-and-water-resilient cities.

IGNITION for resilient investment

Meanwhile, the cities of Manchester and Salford are collaborating through the IGNITION project. Bringing together 12 partners from local government, universities, NGOs, and business, IGNITION seeks to develop innovative financing solutions and better understand how to build investor confidence in nature-based solutions for large-scale environmental projects.

To demonstrate the benefits of nature-based solutions to build climate resilience, a living lab has been established at Salford University which captures data needed to build compelling arguments for investors to confidently invest.

Manchester skyline
Photo: Greater Manchester City Council

Digital solutions for more resilient cities

Two further projects focus on the impact of the digital world on urban resilience. Greater Manchester is working on the TRANSCEND project – led by the THINKlab at Salford University – which aims to foster a more risk-sensitive approach to development. TRANSEND is a digital platform that brings together stakeholders from local authorities, disaster management authorities, developers, vulnerable communities – as well as humanitarian organisations in Malaysia, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka – to find new ways to build urban resilience. It enables stakeholders to analyse, forecast, visualize, and debate disaster-risk trade-offs, supporting the choice of development plans that ensure sustainability and equitable resilience.

The Digital Exclusion Risk Index is another city-based initiative, offering an insight into digital resilience. Whilst technology offers many opportunities, not everyone has access to the digital world. If we believe that digital access is one piece of a jigsaw puzzle of solutions to help build community resilience – connecting people to jobs, education, healthcare, and other opportunities – then we need to understand who is digitally excluded. Available for all UK cities to use, the Index uses 12 indicators to show where digital exclusion is most likely to occur and helps us understand where we can collectively work to address issues and support our residents and communities to be more resilient – and thrive.

Resilience also means opportunity

The above projects are examples of cities working together, within and across national boundaries, to promote urban resilience on themes MCR2030 is prioritising in 2022. As a Resilience Hub, we are committed to working with cities across the world to create a more resilient future – it’s a privilege to share these initiatives and encourage cities to take inspiration from these projects and apply their ideas locally.

Being a Resilience Hub offers opportunities to collaborate with other cities on projects designed to find innovative solutions to the pressing problems we all face. If requested, we can coach other cities that may be at an earlier stage in their resilience journey. We can share our experience as well as the tools, techniques and approaches we’ve used, to connect cities to our academic institutions – many of which are leading ground-breaking work in this field – and to share the lessons learned from responding to the emergencies experienced in Greater Manchester.

By sharing some reflections on Greater Manchester’s resilience work with other cities, and by offering some insights into what we might bring to the table, I hope I can encourage more cities to join the MCR2030 network and to become Resilience Hubs.

Kathy OldhamKathy Oldham OBE has been Greater Manchester’s Chief Resilience Officer since 2017, providing strategic leadership for the city region’s approach to resilience. She heads up Greater Manchester’s participation in several international partnerships including the Resilient Cities Network, the Making Cities Resilient 2030 (MCR2030) partnership and the Counter Terrorism Preparedness Network (CTPN). 

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