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What makes a city resilient?


The list of the 50 most violent cities in the world has been making the rounds recently, with a lot of people being surprised that Cape Town has come in near the top of the list.

In 2012, as part of the Rockefeller foundation’s study into cities’ resilience and the indicators that can be used, the company I work for carried out a series of workshops, focus group sessions and interviews with various city stakeholders. From government officials, to NGO representatives.

The findings were fascinating and unsurprising. Cape Town suffers from chronic stress issues. Violence, hopelessness, hunger. Stemming from a legacy of inequality that is systemic in all things we do.

The City Resilience Framework was issued in April 2014 and you can find it here.

This framework incorporates findings from a desktop study and from the field based research and is a very interesting read. What I wanted to share were 8 qualities or functions of a resilient city. Read through them and think about your city. If you’re in Cape Town, maybe think about this with the problem of violence in the back of your mind. Where do you come across these functions failing? Does your daily life impact on these areas of life for either you or someone else? Can understanding these help you to have more empathy for other people and the things they struggle with? What role does our municipality have to play in addressing these? What responsibility do we have? Where should we be applying more pressure?

A resilient city:

  1. Delivers basic needs. Can people get access to food, water, energy?
  2. Safeguards human life. Can a city respond to shocks and stresses to protect its inhabitants?
  3. Protects, maintains and enhances assets. Are man made and natural assets treated and maintained properly, and are they utilized efficiently and equitably?
  4. Facilitates human relationships and identity. Are cultures, heritage, language, religion and genders celebrated and empowered? Is diversity encouraged?
  5. Promotes knowledge, education and innovation. Is the empowerment of our civil society promoted? Is education a priority? Is it easy to access, of good quality and available to all?
  6. Defends the rule of law, justice and equality. Is the response to a violation of the law fair, reasonable and consistently applied? Are laws, policies and regulations fair, and are they implemented appropriately? Is there recourse for victims?
  7. Supports livelihoods. Do people have hope that they will be able to provide for themselves and their community? Are there opportunities? Can they get to those opportunities?
  8. Stimulates economic prosperity. Is trade supported?

What I feel could also be included under 8 is does it stimulate social prosperity? Are people happy.

After reading the above with my Cape Town hat on, I find it very easy to believe we are so high on that list. In a place where people have had their sense of identity eroded for decades, where the education system has been first unfair and then incompetent, where the rule of law is ineffective, where economic opportunities are thin on the ground, and people have to travel ridiculous distances to get there, and where basic needs are sporadically available. How then in the face of this can a city respond to continuous stresses; increasing drug use, the legacy of inequitable urban planning and segregation, continued immigration, global economic events… Without bending, cracking and breaking in parts.

But if we know where those pressure points are. If we are aware of what leads to a strong, flexible and resilient society are we not able to take action, collectively, to help pull us out of this list if shame. Let us be shamed to be ranking so high. Let us use that shame to get us to act.

What makes a city resilient?