The Resilient City
Predicting, responding to and recovering from major change is essential to urban survival.
As the world becomes beset by more complex political, economic, climatic and other events, cities must be resilient in the face of dramatic and sometimes devastating change. Events that affect cities are distinctly different from others, because of the scale, density and complexity involved and the increasing reliance being placed on the urban environment. What makes a city resilient in a more complex world? The UN’s resilient cities program has raised this to a global level of inquiry. However, perhaps there are other answers that can be simpler and more effective at the same time – based, as ever, on a human-centered technology approach.
Cities are being hit by major changes and sudden events more than ever before. These could be single acts of terror or crime, most visibly in events such as the Boston Bombings in April this year. It includes cities affected by massive shifts in production – such as Detroit, recently declared bankrupt. Or Cairo and other Middle Eastern cities, hit by social, cultural or political change. Or New York, or Fukushima, hit by disaster-level events. The approach must be to minimize impact, safeguard lives and livelihoods and to get things back on course after the event. A human-technology methodology is key to delivering the ability to predict, respond and recover.
Cities must be able to use complex real-time data to correlate changes in behavior, movement and trends. This involves direct data – reports from stock markets, etc. – and indirect – social and other media – to predict changes in social and cultural behavior. It also means looking across different types of data, tying them together, and linking urban data with wider national, international and global data streams.
Sudden events happen – no amount of prediction will alter this. And so the city must respond. This requires a high degree of connectivity and sharing between relevant services so that these events are responded to appropriately and rapidly – and chaotic changes to and impacts of the event can be managed cohesively. This again is highly connected to the issue of data availability and management: the key problem with sudden events is that data is trapped at the site, and trapped within the responding team – and may not be shared properly. Response teams must use tools that instantly share data to respond to immediate needs – for instance sending disaster victims to the right medical center. At the wider level this data, driven into a central bank, can help to understand the ‘shape’ of problems – and enable better direction of anything from the manhunt for a terrorist to ensuring a natural disaster, such as a flood or earthquake can be managed.
This ‘operationalized’ real-time data approach, where data is still in the hands of people doing real time jobs and is also ‘live’ for everyone else, means recovery programs can be more successfully targeted. Also, more effective support can be put into place for citizens, as more exact information on how they have been affected and how to support them (medical, housing, business advice, etc. – depending on the nature of the event or change that has occurred) can be delivered.
Of course there are negative implications. Anyone who fears too much control and oversight can see more data monitoring and governance as an impact on privacy. However, any change creates potential for negatives: this is down to the trust and governance of the urban environment as a whole.
A technology approach, so long as it is highly focused on the ways that real people understand and respond to change – and what they need from their living environment – can deliver the sort of responsiveness cities need to be truly resilient. But the human element can also support the city: this underlines the emotional and community response that a city can awaken in citizens; we see it in the imaginative solutions put forwards to remake New York’s flood defenses; crowdsourcing concepts post-conflicts in Africa, and post-disasters in Haiti and elsewhere.
This bond of people and city can be powerful beyond a mere ‘sense of pride’; it can awaken new practical ideas of how to make the city resilient in a time when it needs to be tougher than ever.