At a time when the world is suffering the consequences of nature’s backlash — the pandemic, cities are under tremendous pressure: to not only get smarter but also imbibe the concept of urban resilience. For the first time in history, cities are home to more than half of the total population. 

In Europe, this figure has skyrocketed to 77%. According to the World Bank, in 1980, only a mere 19.4 percent of the Chinese population was urban. Since then, China’s urban population has soared and in 2020, about 64 percent lived in urban areas. Such rapid urbanization poses major challenges to traffic, pollution, freshwater supplies, sewage, the environment, and health.  

Experts are Unanimous | Urban Resilience

Cities, where resources and competencies are centred, are turning into laboratories for futuristic smart solutions. Technology is becoming vital to these densely packed cities: the number of connected devices in the world is continually growing, rising from 15 to 75 billion between 2015 and 2025 according to Statista

On this, experts are unanimous: making a city smart isn’t just about installing sensors or high-end software, it’s about using technology and data to improve quality of life, as the pandemic sets fresh challenges.

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McKinsey Global Institute

In a notable report on the subject, the McKinsey Global Institute pointed out three important layers to the smartness of a city: the technical layer which encompasses networks of interconnected devices and sensors; the software layer that includes data analysis applications; the human layer: that talks about how a population adopts these tools to make better decisions and change their behaviours. 

The McKinsey Global Institute explains the role of digitalization in urban resilience; in making infrastructure systems more agile and robust while providing energy solutions and intervention management in case of natural disasters.

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Urban Resilience_©

Health, energy, waste, and mobility

In the area of health and wellness, telemedicine is the most promising; along with air quality monitoring and that of infectious diseases. In the energy sector, smart street lights and energy consumption tracking systems get mentioned. The latter enables dynamic electricity pricing. In this area, the talk is about Enernet or the Internet of energy to improve network energy efficiency. Leak detection and management systems help limit wastage. 

Waste management can also be improved with tools that optimize collection routes. Speaking of transport, density-based dynamic traffic signals real-time data on public transport, and predictive repair and maintenance of transport infrastructures will decongest roads. In terms of mobility too, digitalization makes it easy to model behaviour: by knowing supply and demand, it becomes possible to adjust transport services by encouraging carpooling, taxing the use of personal vehicles, and building ample parking areas.

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Urban Resilience_©

Strategic approach | Urban Resilience

These systems implicate all the stakeholders of the city’s fabric, starting with its population, with transmission and reception of data in real-time and self-regulation. What matters most is not the how many or the range of applications but their interconnection to the residents’ service. Isabelle Thomas, professor of urban planning at The Université de Montréal says, “the resilient urban fabric requires a systemic approach to the city, which must be considered as a complex system with its personality, its specificities. And with its main components of strong leadership and integrated governance, in other words, an implication of the whole set of players and stakeholders.”

Undoubtedly, resilience is a future value in the context of urban planning. The 11th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) set by the UN in 2015, highlights the pressing need to “make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. 

The Goal 11 targets

  • By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe, and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums.
  • By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible, and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities, and older persons.
  • By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated, and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries.
  • Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage.
  • By 2030, significantly reduce the number of deaths and the number of people affected and substantially decrease the direct economic losses relative to the global gross domestic product caused by disasters, including water-related disasters, with a focus on protecting the poor and people in vulnerable situations.
  • By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management.
  • By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons, and persons with disabilities.
  • Support positive economic, social, and environmental links between urban, peri-urban, and rural areas by strengthening national and regional development planning.
  • By 2020, substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters, and develop and implement, in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, holistic disaster risk management at all levels.
  • Support least developed countries, including through financial and technical assistance, in building sustainable and resilient buildings utilizing local materials.

Sowmya is an architectural journalist and writer. In this column, Sowmya takes you through stories on eco-architecture, biophilic design, and green buildings from across the globe.