Resilience of cities is the theme of the latest issue of the French publication of Villes en Développement edited by my old friend Marcel Belliot. As the preface notes, resilience is now central to “approaches and strategies of governments partnering urban development and of funders.” It brings a holistic and interdisciplinary approach to understanding and managing urban development. There are articles about simulation of crises and responses to an earthquake disaster in Lima; efforts by Algiers to adapt to the consequences of climate change; emergency responses in South Sudan, a country particularly fragile and vulnerable to the risk of flooding; and how the French Development Agency (AFD) is bolstering the resilience of vulnerable neighbourhoods in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Algiers – a fast-growing but vulnerable city
Algiers is a metropolis. Its population is 5.5 million. It is likely to grow by anpther 1.5 million by 2030. This growth will be accommodated by a mix of densification and spread. The city already faces several types of risk: earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, coastal flooding, landslides, heat islands, reduced water resources, storms and forest fires.
Climate change is exacerbating the impact of other natural hazards. It seems likely to bring an increase in temperature, frequency and duration of heat waves, a decrease in water resources, salinization of ground water due to rising sea levels, coastal erosion, shrinkage of forests and increased flooding.
A fundamental problem here as elsewhere is the tension between the long-term nature of the climate change impacts and short-term imperatives and opportunities, not least in relation to public sector budgets. However, one response has been the creation of an utban planning agency. Areas sensitive to disasters have been identified in planning documents including the blueprint for the metropolitan area of Algiers, and local land use plans.
Earthquake risk in Lima
Lima’s importance to the people and economy of Peru is difficult to overstate. It is a city of over 10 million and accounts for more than half of the national GDP. Not surprisingly, real estate development is a big part of the city’s economy. However, Lima is in an earthquake zone, and as a coastal city there is also a risk of tsunamis.
In his thought-provoking article, Alexis Sierra shows how disaster preparation here is based on the idea of reducing areas of informal development and squatting. Post-disaster challenges to public order are perceived by the civic authorities as the main threat. However, as Sierra points out, these marginalised communities have had a lifetime of experience in dealing with risk, insecurity and displacement. They have developed their own informal coping mechanisms, which could be assets to be mobilised if a seismic disaster strikes.
“Mototaxis, loudspeakers, parallel support networks (particularly based on solidarity with the original region of the inhabitants) are used daily to offset the lack of public transportation, a telephone network or access to national support procedures. These local, flexible resources, which are often informal, arise from another form of making the city that does not correspond to the planned modern city. They are therefore generally stigmatised in normal
Cyclones and earthquakes – Haiti and the Dominican Republic
The poorest people often live in informally constructed buildings located inthe most vulnerable areas. This is the case in Port-au-Prince where post-disaster reconstruction has had to grapple with the interface between informality and regulations aiming to reduce future risks. this dilemma is of central importance across the Global South if resilience is to have real meaning. However, as the article observes, despite innovations and experiments there is still a way to go.
Hurricane Sandy caused serious flooding in the La Barquita neighbourhood of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. the response has been an integrated development project for La Barquita, which includes moving and relocating residents of the flood zone into a new neighbourhood, the Nueva Barquita. “This project involves the promotion of new tools for planning and urban management, such as support and training of displaced communities to ensure sustainable resettlement and appropriation of their new living conditions,” writes Gaëlle Henry.
“It is supplemented by environmental rehabilitation of the entire La Barquita neighbourhood: creation of a riverside park on the flood-prone area, rehabilitation of access and drainage networks for the neighbourhood, construction of new public amenities and establishment of a community management system for the waste management service.”
The AFD-financed project aims to be a pilot operation and a model for future urban renewal policy.
War and flooding in South Sudan
South Sudan is a new country, gaining its independence in 2011. The River Nile runs through it and flooding is a persistent hazard. This has created local mitigation strategies based on experience. Villages have developed on the highlands, there are buildings on stilts or housing raised on compacted earth platforms. There also dams and diversion of surface water networks and temporary displacement during the year from one bank of the river to the other.
To illustrate the practicalities on the ground, the article by Lorba Drewry focuses on the small town of Minkaman. Because people were displaced by the civil war, its population mushroomed in a matter on months from 7,000 to 90,000. Humanitarian aid addressed the immediate needs of this tragedy. However, the town is built in an area devoid of
drainage and with no surface water management.
Drewry says “The constructions hinder the natural flow of water, increasing the vulnerability of amenities, public spaces and markets…. Flood risks should help guide the selection and planning of sites for development. The space allocated to sites for displaced persons and refugees, however, is often limited.”
Resilience is a theme that I have touched upon in a number of my World View blogs. There is now almost an academic industry mining the concept. This issue of Villes en Développement does not approach the issues from an academic viewpoint. Its strength is that it gives us first hand accounts of what is happening in places that planners whose first language is English only rarely hear about.
To be critical, the series of short articles that I have summarised here mainly focus on the mitigation of natural hazards. Where they do provide deeper insights is by highlighting the tensions between idealised top-down environmental management approaches of official agencies and their planners, and the reality on the ground of limited professional capacity and vulnerable communities who are marginalised. Engineering only takes us so far; governance is the X-Factor.