Skip to main content

Urban resilience challenges the way cities work and calls for innovation. New solutions, technologies and ideas are needed on how to fit pioneering infrastructure into existing cites and there just might be a good solution to an urgent problem in a neighboring city.

According to Lykke Leonardsen, Head of Program for Resilient and Sustainable City Solutions in the City of Copenhagen, a huge cloudburst in July 2011 was a game changer for the city. 150 mm rain in two hours, damages to critical infrastructure and damage costs of close to 1 billion Euro made it clear to politicians, planners and practitioners alike that things had changed:

Before July 2011, the general attitude in Copenhagen was that we had things under control, but the cloudburst made it hit home that our infrastructure is vulnerable to the effects of climate change,” says Leonardsen in an open webinar as part of a series of summer school lectures on urban resilience organized by the University of Southern Denmark in collaboration with BLOXHUB.

While in the previous decades international collaboration has often been viewed as an optional luxury, we have now moved to a phase where it has become key to securing the innovation power needed to speed up the process of climate change adaptation:

Networks build knowledge between cities and create a huge potential for mutual learning, because it allows us to share some of our results with other cities and practitioners facing the same challenges. At the same time, we have a focus on creating business opportunities for companies between the participating cities and also, more advanced cities can help less advanced cities. There is no reason why each city should try to invent everything on their own when there is so much inspiration to be found and shared around the world”. Said Leonardsen.

Here are the key takeaways from the session:

1) You can learn an awful lot by teaching
You learn a lot about what you are doing by trying to explain it to other cities and you learn that context is key to the transfer of knowledge. Sometimes I feel like Bill Murray in the movie Lost in Translation due to the challenges that emerge from differences in legislation, financing, culture, etc. However, it’s important to remember that innovation is often not about copying but instead of translating an idea into a local context.

2) From best practice to shared practice
Through collaboration you move from teaching and learning to sharing. You move from ”best practice” to shared practice, because it becomes necessary to share difficulties, obstacles and challenges. It takes time to build up the necessary trust to share not only your successes, but also your failures and it can be a struggle to get the acceptance of that in your own organization. Securing the resources for international collaboration is still seen as something extravagant, but it is worthwhile doing, if you want to go further.

3) The idea of failing forward
Sharing failures is key in developing resilience and managing climate change. Cities like to present their success stories, but we all make mistakes and sometimes we even repeat them. Cities are not good at evaluating and monitoring their projects to ensure that we learn from them – we often rush on to the next project. We need to find a way to share our mistakes in a way that does not compromise the cities as such. Workshops based on chatham house rules can be one way forward, but closer partnerships based on a learning culture where it’s safe to share failures can also be a viable way.

4) A humble attitude
Climate change adaptation involves entering uncharted territory and we’re bound to take a wrong turn at some point. It is better to admit it so as to maintain credibility, but even more so to be open to learning through trial and error. That’s the only way we’re going to make room for the innovation needed to meet the demands of the future.

5) New infrastructure designed to manage water can also add quality of life
It is important to remember that some of the co-benefits of adaptation can be recreational value, biodiversity, meeting places, health, improved microclimate, synergy with traffic planning, accessibility and safety as well as economic growth.

The City of Copenhagen participates in a number of C40 networks – including two on adaptation (Connecting Delta Cities, Urban Flooding Network) and is involved in a bilateral partnership with New York City as part of Copenhagen’s program for Resilient and Sustainable City Solutions.

The summer school webinar series is intended as a space for an emergent dialog between policy makers, researchers, and practitioners debating how urban resilience can increase the ability of urban systems to respond to major global crises.

Watch the webinar series here.