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It’s impossible to crisis-proof cities, but you can learn to plan and accommodate for shocks and stresses by building responsive and resilient urban communities

“Urban resilience is an urgent and high-stakes matter, because it’s impossible for a single individual, organization, municipality or government to respond to multiple global crises without collaboration. It’s about a peer to peer learning process and a necessary dialog among different realities.”

That message was delivered by Nicola Tollin, Professor WSR in Urban Resilience at the University of Southern Denmark and coordinator of a recently finished BLOXHUB summer school on Urban Resilience. 25 participants from 20 countries and 25 speakers dove into interactive lectures and diverse panel discussions over the course of a month while at the same time dealing with concrete challenges in their local context. Some of the participants were tackling the Covid-19 emergency at the government level, while others were busy addressing climate change at the UN level.

Major global challenges such as climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic propel the need for new ways of designing future urban systems with adequate levels of preparedness and response to growing threats in the short and long term.

“Urban resilience is not a final state, it is a process and a pathway that we can walk together by putting together short-term action with strategic long-term interventions, which will ultimately require the engagement of many different stakeholders.” Explains Tollin.

Urban resilience is still a relatively new field and there is a need for strengthening the dialog between policy makers, researchers, and practitioners by fostering a joint community and building the capacity to manage new layers of complexity such as engaging the plethora of stakeholders involved in transformative change.

Here are the key learnings from the summer school – from Tollin’s perspective:

Build a strong and lasting community
We were surprised to discover that it was possible to create such a strong sense of community even though we had to digitalize the summer school due to Covid-19. We were only together for ten days online and yet the participants’ commitment and results were incredible. The facilitation of the process is the key to creating a safe space for dialog where both policy makers, researchers, and practitioners can find support and share their different perspectives. This was mainly achieved through the collaboration of former summer school participants. Peer-to-peer learning can be a powerful tool and a surprising example of that, which brought a new level to our sense of community, was when one of the participants from India guided us through a two-hour joint yoga session on International Yoga Day.

Also, we make sure to create an immaterial infrastructure through which the participants can be further strengthened by continuing the dialog in between summer schools.

Confusion is part of the process
The complexity in this field is very high and confusion will be a natural part of the learning process. The important thing is to help the participants turn confusion into enquiry and apply a system thinking approach in order to problem-solve in a holistic way.

Couple your vision of transformation with an engaging story
If you can’t engage the stakeholders and create a sense of ownership there is no way to sustain a transformative process in the long term. The most important thing is not which specific action you’re using to manage the transition, but the overall transformative change this vision is bringing about. That’s why on the last day we ask the participants to turn their solutions into storytelling. One group reconstructed their project proposal on access to clean water and told it through the eyes of a small girl living in the favela of São Paulo. Another group unfolded their project proposal from a future perspective and told the story with the voices of different stakeholders who had benefited from the project.

Urgency equals engagement
Due to the geographical diversity of the participants, we had limited time available where everyone would be awake and able to join the online sessions. Despite time constraints it was incredible to see that they were able to juggle such complex project design, applying new tools and instruments and at the same time coming up with very interesting results for the challenges they were facing in their local context, ranging from local authority, government to the UN.

BLOXHUB Summer School on Urban Resilience 2020 was held in collaboration with SDU in June this year. The vision is to continue to grow the community through new teaching formats. Stay updated here.