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    Future Proofing Cities

    By Caren Levy, on 29 November 2012

    Risks and opportunities for inclusive urban growth in developing countries, a report reflecting 9 months work by teams from Atkins and UCL’s Development Planning Unit (DPU) funded by DFID, was launched on the 28th November 2012.

    In this picture, from left to right: Adriana Allen (DPU,UCL), David Tonkin (Atkins) and Nick Godfrey (Atkins)

    At a time when debates about the environment seem to get stuck around arguments about the existence and magnitude of environmental problems, and the short term and long term opportunity cost of solutions in primarily economic terms, the report offers a clear methodology for assessing and responding to environmental risks and opportunities in a way that addresses poverty and inequality in cities.  The methodology was applied to 129 cities across 20 countries within DFID’s programme remit.

    The first component of the methodology is an ‘urban diagnostic’ based on an assessment of three critical issues:

    1. A cities environmental risk assessment based on the intersection of the risks from carbon emissions and energy use, climate change risks, and resource and ecosystems risks;
    2. an assessment of urban vulnerability, based on poverty and inequality; basic infrastructure and services; and urban form;
    3. an assessment of the capacity to act, based on indicators relating to the economy; governance; planning; finance and delivery.

    Drawing together the urban diagnostics, the research proposed a categorisation of cities into 5 urban types based on their most significant environmental risk, that is,

    • energy intensive, sprawled cities, with significant carbon footprints (eg. Bangalore, Cape Town);
    • cities with major climate hazards (eg. Dhaka, Kampala);
    • cities with regional support system(s) at risk (water, food, biodiversity) (eg. Karachi, Da Nang);
    • cities with multiple risks: energy, carbon, climate hazards, and regional support systems (eg Jakarta, Bangkok);
    • and cities with a low current risk profile (eg Blantyre-Limbe, Lilongwe)

    The second component of the methodology is a 5 stage multi-criteria approach to identifying and prioritising policies for future proofing.  The research reviewed 102 different policies which might have different combinations of applicability to the urban types.  For an individual city, the 5 stage model would involve the identification and appraisal of solutions related to

    1. the risks addressed;
    2. the ability to target vulnerabilities;
    3. and the capacity required to implement solutions;
    4. on the basis of 1.- 3. , an impact and cost effectiveness assessment;
    5. and finally a policy portfolio is assembled.

    At the launch of this research, the Nick Godfrey (Atkins) and Adriana Allen (DPU, UCL) summarised the following main arguments from the report.

    The first and strong message is that cities need to take steps to future proof themselves.  In the face of massive future growth in African and Asian cities, there is an important but closing window of opportunity for cities to act.   The team emphasised that there is not a single development path for cities, and the report demonstrates that, although cities may face similar challenges, social and political and cultural diversity means that there will be multiple paths, for example, in the cases of Maputo and Karachi.  Moreover, a review of the 102 policies revealed that policies with the highest impact are not necessarily those that require the highest investment.  Thus, the policy portfolio for any city must be tailored to the specific of the context, including the capacity to act by government as well as civil society and the private sector.  In this sense, the report moves away from the ‘best practice’ approach, offering a methodology rather than the transferability of policies identified for their success in a particular place and time.

    Source: Future Proofing Cities report (c)Atkins 2012

    A second major theme is that future proofing cannot be done at the expense of equity issues.  Future proofing policies can generate important wider social and economic benefits.  “…a strategy based on ‘grow first, tackle environmental risks later’ is unlikely to be effective given the risks to economic growth and the urban poor from depletion of natural resources, climate change, and global population pressure.” (p ix).  Although the report has pulled together a unique data set form a wide variety of sources, it was also a useful survey of the data gaps of city and city hinterland level information which constrains the effectiveness of the proposed urban diagnostics.   The proposed categories for assessment suggest where future research needs to be done, including the need for disaggregated information as research shows that who you are and where you live matters a lot in terms of how vulnerable you are.

    Finally, the multidisciplinary and integrated character of the challenge was emphasised.  The opportunity to achieve multiple benefits for cities is only possible if we break out of our disciplinary silos. Only teams with multidisciplinary approaches, knowledge and skills can address the complex and ‘wicked’ problems so many contemporary cities face.

    The notion of future proofing in the report is aspirational and goes beyond the notion of resilience in getting us to think not just how we cope, but how we transform our cities. Report seeks to engender confidence that multidisciplinary teams working collaboratively within government, civil society and the private sector, can address the environmental, economic and social challenges faced by contemporary cities.

    More information about the report at www.futureproofingcities.com
    Listen to the podcast of the report’s official launch here http://j.mp/SvSBEc