Glasgow was selected as one of the first members of the Rockefeller Foundation’s global 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) network and has appointed the UK’s first Chief Resilience Officer to lead a citywide drive to mitigate and minimise the impacts of shocks such as flooding and extreme weather and stresses such as unemployment and fuel poverty.

Dr Judith Rodin, president of The Rockefeller Foundation and author of The Resilience Dividend: Being Strong in a World Where Things Go Wrong, explains how cities worldwide are working together to become stronger.

It’s said that Generals tend to fight the last war and economists try to fend off the last Depression.

But if cities are to remain thriving centres of growth and prosperity, they must work together to solve the shared challenges ahead. And they can’t be looking in the rear view mirror.

Poverty, a lack of affordable housing, climate change and ageing infrastructure have tested Glasgow’s resilience and disproportionately stressed its most vulnerable citizens. So have tragedies like the Clutha Bar helicopter crash, the Queen Street incident and extreme weather like the recent Scotstorm.

While crises vary from city to city, this is the new urban landscape, where crisis is the new normal, and disruption should be expected. Because of the intersecting trends of rapid urbanisation, globalisation, and climate change, not a week goes by that a city, somewhere in the world, doesn’t face a new threat, from terrorist attacks to economic or civil upheaval. But not every disruption has to become a crisis.

We often think of Resilience in terms of responding and recovering, but it’s as much about planning and preparing. It’s about readiness – how a city prepares for any crisis before one hits, and reaping the benefits of that preparation in times of calm, too. I call that last part the “Resilience Dividend” because farsighted investments pay significant, and immediate, economic and social returns.

Glasgow is already ahead of the curve when it comes to Resilience planning – and it’s reaping the Resilience Dividend in spades. The city council is investing in a green energy services company that will tackle fuel poverty, cut pollution and create jobs. After the success of the Commonwealth Games, which put more than 5,000 unemployed workers in jobs, the city council has announced that companies bidding for contracts will have to demonstrate their commitment to paying the Glasgow Living Wage under new procurement policies.

Today there are also more Renewables Sector jobs in Glasgow than any other part of Scotland and the city is well on its way to becoming one of the most sustainable cities in Europe.

In the process, the Dear Green Place has become a global model for other post-industrial cities that are grappling with similar growing pains. But there is still plenty to learn. For example, in Pittsburgh, steel production and industrial manufacturing once drove the city’s economy. And as Glasgow previously experienced, the decline of heavy industry caused younger residents to leave the city. Pittsburgh has responded by redefining itself as an active hub for technology, education, health care and finance. It’s also turned a vulnerability to flooding – Pittsburgh is known for its landscape of hills and rivers – into an opportunity to improve its ageing infrastructure in a sustainable fashion.

Glasgow is also teaching and learning from other port cities like Rotterdam, the largest port in Europe and the entry point for a majority of the goods that come to the Continent. Yet along with the goods landing on Rotterdam’s shores are waves of immigrants – more than 170 languages are spoken there and by 2020, more than half of the city’s population will have been born outside of Holland. So Rotterdam’s tremendous diversity presents challenges of social cohesion, which is something Glasgow has managed particularly well.

Glasgow, Pittsburgh and Rotterdam all belong to the 100 Resilient Cities Network, pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation. Perhaps the most compelling part of 100 Resilient Cities is not what Glasgow stands to learn – and teach – about Resilience, but rather what this collaboration represents: a new level of forward-looking, city-led international co-operation. This is critical, as vulnerabilities in one city can quickly lead to problems in cities in other regions, even other hemispheres. But by working together, cities can discover new ways of maximizing budgets and taking advantage of shared opportunities.

Glasgow is well poised to lead the way.


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