Assessing resilience at the city level

Dresden Nexus Conference 2017 (DNC 2017)

Resilient solutions to urban water challenges are becoming increasingly important due long-term and uncertain trends of climate change, urbanization,  obsolete infrastructure and aging populations. Resilience is a relatively novel concept, stemming from the realization that uncertainty in long term planning of infrastructure and cities is so significant, that we need to better understand the way our systems behave under failure, and identify the options that would allow them to behave ‘better’ and recover quickly. To this end we need performance indicators, tools and models able to quantify resilience and support decision making. The session Assessing Resilience at the City Level: Methods, Frameworks, Models and Tools, of the DNC 2017 Conference, co-convened by Christos Makropoulos of KWR and Mark Fletcher of Arup, explored some of the most promising new approaches in quantifying resilience and considered similarities, differences and synergies between them.

Mark Fletcher (Arup) set the scene by discussing the ideas of recovery versus adaptation and underlining a key message from the workshop: extremes are not as rare as we like to think, and our systems are not always designed to manage the resulting risk. He then proceeded to present two complementary tools: the city resilience index and the company resilience index and explained how these two allowed for an exposition of gaps in resilience planning, and therefore a prioritization of actions. Chris Sweetapple (UNEXE) then looked at a method able to quantify the general resilience of a water system, including unknown-unknows, a concept that is key to resilience thinking. His method based on exhaustively identifying and implementing all failure modes, irrespective of what caused them, allows water service providers to systematically stress test elements of their system under the full range of probable and extreme operational and structural pressures.

Christos Makropoulos (KWR/NTUA) then presented KWR’s resilience analysis profile method which looks at the urban water cycle, from source to tap and allows for a comparison of alternative options for water company strategic planning, giving decision makers insights into both robustness and resilience of alternative urban water system configurations, and the trade-off between these and costs. He showcased the method, using Watershare Tools, like Urban Water Optioneering Tool(UWOT), as well as new KWR tools, such as the Scenario Planner. The session then moved to another critical aspect of resilience planning: that of governance. Stef Koop (KWR) presented another important Watershare tool, the City Blueprint tool, and showcased the new JRC publication: the Urban Water Atlas for Europe, which is based on 45 City Blueprint assessments. He then presented the Governance Capacity Framework. The framework identifies the main conditions that limit or encourage  cities or other cooperating networks to effectively govern a common water challenge. The framework is able to identify both strong and weak points that can be bridged by capacity building, by city-to-city learning and knowledge exchange. The tool also provides access to applicable knowledge and assistance within the Watershare community in order to help improve the conditions that are found to be hampering adequate solutions. The scientific work of Governance Capacity Framework will soon be transformed into a practical tool within the Watershare community. Within the Watershare’s Community of Practice Resilient Urban Water Management, the Governance Capacity Framework and the resilience profiling tools such as UWOT and Scenario Planner form a comprehensive package that can facilitate cities, water managers and decision-makers to improve their water resilience. In this way, KWR is bridging scientific knowledge into practice.

The session was wrapped up by Niels-Christian Fritsche (TU Dresden) who gave an architect ‘s perspective to the debate also setting out key principles for the blue and green cities of tomorrow. He argued that mixing uses and stakeholders offers more possibilities for resilient cities, despite being less ‘pure’ in architectural terms. Both questions after each presentation and the end of session discussion identified synergies between these approaches, and also highlighted the need to prepare these tools and methods both for large megacities but also for small and medium sized cities, with possibly less capacity but more opportunities to become really resilient.