Urban resilience in action: Lessons from the Local Governments for Sustainability's Resilient Cities forum

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By Matteo Bizzotto

A coastal city situated predominantly below sea level, the city of Quelimane, Mozambique is heavily exposed to marine floods and tides. Its 450,000 inhabitants are therefore extremely vulnerable to climate risk.

With the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Quelimane municipal leaders and the community worked together to address the challenges through the Coastal City Adaptation Project (CCAP), a climate change adaptation initiative that focused on two main elements: ecosystem-based adaptation; and smart and resilient housing. In the first case, the city restored the original mangrove line, which is now the prime line of defense against flooding and helps against soil erosion. Mangrove restoration measures leveraged the active involvement and participation of the community, which in turn empowered community associations, promoted restoration methodologies and ecosystem services, and saw political buy-in and mobilization of different age and gender groups.

“There is a political buy-in given that community members and leaders are involved in all stages of the restoration process … This is very important as it brings ownership to the people” – Manuel Araujo, Mayor of Quelimane Municipality, Mozambique

With regard to housing, Quelimane promoted the construction of buildings that intentionally incorporate resilience in their design, such as elements that aid in withstanding disaster and disruption of normal life. Examples of such buildings’ characteristics point to their low-risk locations, secured and stable roofs, higher foundations, and rainfall-water storage. All these innovative techniques are linked through a silver thread: cost-affordability, which empowered the local community to build cheap but disaster-proof houses.

Copenhagen cloudburst management plan

With a population of over 783,000, Copenhagen is the most populated city in Denmark. In 2011 the city was hit by a severe cloudburst – 150 mm of torrential rain in two hours – causing damages exceeding USD one billion and a steep rise in insurances claims and payouts for cloudburst-related damages, which in turn augmented the prices of insurance coverage for similar assets from one year to another.

Following the 2011 wakeup call, Copenhagen developed a specific Cloudburst Management Plan, firstly presenting at Resilient Cities 2012. The city returned five years later to track the progresses and challenges of its implementation: stormwater-protection measures combined green and gray infrastructure, smartly exploiting the topography and tunnels to divert water from high-risk to low-risk areas (e.g. the harbour, lakes). For instance, Sankt Annae Square, one of Copenhagen’s first cloudburst streets, was transformed into a recreational area that can serve as a large stormwater retention basin. Such methods of managing rainwater on the surface, rather than only through traditional drainage, also allowed the city to save money while providing green, multifunctional spaces. In effect, the Plan’s cost-efficiency and socio-economic benefits ultimately helped it to win the City Council’s and national government’s approval.

Further projects are currently being promoted or implemented, establishing new partnerships and expanding to the private sector as well to overcome financial constraints.

"Sharing and openness is really important. Get over the fear of working with the private sector that is looking for a profit, stop being afraid!" – Lykke Leonardsen, Head of Program, Resilient and Sustainable City Solutions, City of Copenhagen, Denmark

Bologna, Italy: ROCKing resilience while protecting heritage

Cultural and natural heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live in today and what we will pass to future generations. At Resilient Cities 2018, the city Bologna, Italy presented its approach to advance urban resilience while preserving its legacy.

Through the EU-funded ROCK project, Bologna transformed the 350,000 m2 university area (ZONA-U) of its historical centre with a dual objective: reinforcing the recognition of the existing cultural heritage, and stimulating the daily formation of a new heritage, a product of contemporary urban cultures. The area was indeed chosen due to the diversity of its residents, such as students, elderly and families.

Bologna co-designed cultural and sustainable initiatives (living labs, green mobility); it increased pedestrian flows and slow mobility with new cultural routes; and it enhanced porticoes as a unique gathering points. Temporary physical measures, such as flower pots and overhead gardens, were elaborated in close consultation with the population, which in turn felt a sense of ownership on the project. Once such installations were removed, the city – and the community – started to look for more permanent solutions and new partnerships, particularly with the private sector.

The versatility – and success – of ROCK lied within the continuous comparison between different cultural, social and economic identities in local, national and international perspectives. This catalyzed shared actions between those who live, frequent and animate ZONE-U by mixing visions, knowledge and skills. In turn, the project benefited the city as a whole by improving safety, mitigating social conflicts, and attracting tourists, entrepreneurs and private investments.

Last resort: community resettlement

The coastal area of the state of Louisiana, USA is increasingly giving way to water due to a combination of factors, such as land subsidence in the Mississippi River Delta, rising sea levels, and hurricanes. This undoubted fact of annual land loss, including the majority of Isle de Jean, and sinking has led to economic, social, and cultural concerns about the future of a vibrant area.

"It’s like a family member having cancer: he’s been eaten away … little bit by little bit, getting destroyed. The only [different] thing is the piece of land is lasting longer than human body can" – Albert Naquin, Chief of the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians

With a grant of USD 48 million awarded by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Louisiana Office of Community Development – Disaster Recovery Unit (OCD-DRU) started a resettlement plan for the island. This was the first publicly-funded, climate change-induced resettlement project in US American history.

Centred on citizen participation,  open meetings, constant engagement, and consultation with local communities have been crucial to the adaptation efforts. Such an approach ensures that plans for integrated water management or relocation and redefinition of a community’s new home are viable and sustainable practices.

Despite the success of the operation, resettlement should always be regarded as a last resort, especially in cases where it divides communities as it can disrupt cultures and traditions.

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