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Urban Insight

Sweco Group

How European cities can lead the way as ‘Urban Resilience Hubs’


With a growing portion of the global population living in cities, there is an increasing focus on building resilience in urban areas. This includes initiatives such as green infrastructure, smart city technology and community engagement in city planning.

The idea of building resilience at a community level, rather than relying solely on government or other external actors, is also gaining traction. This includes initiatives such as community gardens, local emergency response plans and citizen-led disaster preparedness training. Here, we look at how cities across Europe can set the benchmark for urban resilience.

Making Cities Resilient 2030

Making Cities Resilient 2030 was launched in 2021 by the United Nations agency for the promotion of disaster risk reduction work at the local level. By signing up for MCR 2030, a municipality gets access to a network of contacts and tools to build resilience against accidents and create a sustainable and climate-adapted society.

Some cities that are taking part in MCR 2030 have come to be called ‘resilience hub cities’. Through delivering a clear three-stage roadmap to urban resilience, providing tools and access to knowledge, monitoring and reporting tools, MCR 2030 are supporting cities on their journey to reduce risk and build resilience.

These resilience hub cities have developed and implemented DRR strategies and plans in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and contributed to achieving the Paris Agreement and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Four European cities take the lead as global resilience hubs

Greater Manchester, Barcelona, Helsingborg and Milan were the first four European cities recognised as resilience hubs for their policy and advocacy work in addressing growing climate and disaster risks.(https://www.preventionweb.net/news/four-european-cities-announced-global-making-cities-resilient-2030-resilience-hubs-climate-and)

Greater Manchester has revamped its resilience strategy with particular attention to local flooding risks. Through the ‘Moors for the Future’ partnership, for instance, the city aims to prevent flooding by addressing it at source in the upper catchment rather than mitigating its impact in the urban centre. (https://www.moorsforthefuture.org.uk/)

Adopting a similar holistic approach, Helsingborg combines emerging technology with municipal data to integrate disaster risk and resilience into urban planning. Interactive maps simulate risk scenarios throughout the city, such as heavy rain, raised sea levels and pollution. Hence ensuring risk awareness at early stages of city development.

All the cities are tackling diverse municipal issues as well. The city of Milan is utilising green infrastructure to fight growing rain and temperature risks, as well as developing innovative financing mechanisms to deliver a green economic recovery post-COVID. “In a world that constantly changes, resilience is the only possibility for a city to continue developing in a fair, inclusive and sustainable way”, says Milan mayor Giuseppe Sala. Another key aspect of the resilience hubs initiative is collaboration. Each of the cities are sharing what they have learnt and encouraging other cities to follow suit.

Barcelona has established itself as a centre for global cooperation on resilience serving as a mentor for policymakers in Tunis, Bogotá and Gaza City. ”Resilience work is about breaking down silos”, says Magnus Qvant, co-founder of the Nordic Urban Resilience Institute and Chairman of the Resilient Regions Association, which offers a forum for business, academia, municipalities and other authorities where societal benefit is the focus. Their goal is to jointly develop attractive, smart, sustainable cities and regions that function regardless of the challenges and pressures they face. He is a fire engineer with experience working with the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB). When he started working on resilience in 2010, no one talked about it. Therefore, it became important to agree a useful definition. ”We defined it as cities’ ability to maintain their functionality under stress, chronic or acute.”

A model was developed in which how well a city functions was measured against a system of six flows. These were based on the EU’s four free flows of goods, services, money and people, as well as information and energy. The functionality of the cities was also added to the model.

The model also included four challenges, climate change, urbanisation, disruptive technologies and aging cities. The latter relates to both how to build a city for an aging, but still vital, population plus infrastructure that has seen its best years, as well as the challenges from the million homes programmes.


Resilience and Adaptation

Read the latest reports and insights from our planners, designers and engineers as they explore what resilience is, and how to achieve it.

By working with resilience, silos can be broken down and new capital captured, says Magnus Qvant and exemplifies his point: “The schools in Paris had good maintenance plans but they only related to fixing what was already there. When instead you start collaborating in order to contribute to addressing other challenges in the city, such as more social and green spaces, you get a huge return on invested capital and co-benefits. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has clearly stated that the city will not make major investments unless they address at least three challenges from the resilient strategy.”

Magnus Qvant also highlights two other cities that are far ahead in the field of resilience, Danish Vejle and Dutch Rotterdam. Many cities are developing their resilience and sustainable strategies and are also looking for new ways of restructuring and developing a new civil defence. “There is great potential in combining these tasks and making sure that new civil defences are based on resilient and sustainable principles, hence it will also contribute to a more resilient society facing daily challenges”, he says. “After all, the first line of defence is resilience at a local level.”