Making City-Region Resilience Affordable and Practical

by May 16, 2019News

New evidence, best practice and recommendations to help city regions implement resilience strategies and move toward the global goals in a practical, smart and efficient way that attracts private capital.


Resilience Brokers has been working with city communities, city networks, global banks, insurers and private sector since 2011 to research and gather evidence1 on how any city-region could address the growing set of challenges faced, maybe already summarised in an existing strategy, and come up with sound governance and investment plans, capable of being moved forward quickly to solve them. We have now combined learning from our recent prototyping2 with new supporting evidence from World Bank resilient cities research3 and the emergence of the Global Risk Assessment Framework8 to come up with some clear conclusions which show that a breakthrough approach is now possible and can be moved forward by mobilising collaboration between national government, city departments, communities, finance and technology. It is a smart efficient systems approach which is surprisingly affordable.

City Region Challenges

Since 2008 city budgets are under huge pressure for provision of social and economic services. At the same time migration (often linked to climate change) is driving up population numbers, affordable housing is unavailable, traffic congestion and poor air quality are causing acute economic and health problems and climate change is driving increasing numbers of catastrophic floods and heat stress. Also food insecurity and food prices are rising, linked partly to water scarcity.

Unregulated private sector investment in urban land, infrastructure and housing combined with poor housing policies has led to massive waste of both public and private resources leading to vacant unaffordable housing in cities even though they have acute accomodation problems.

While migrants bring social, economic and cultural contributions, tensions are increased among existing communities who are already under pressure. It is mostly agreed that resilience needs to combat discrimination and empower all individuals and communities, while enabling their full and meaningful participation.

All these stresses are creating governance problems and each election cycle brings greater instability with a focus on short term quick wins rather than longer term resilient solutions.

Detailed analysis3&4 has shown that the total cost of investment in new infrastructure (transport, energy, water, waste, flood and communications) and in maintaining existing infrastructure to meet all these needs and ambitious Global Goal outcomes by 2030 would be a total of 8% of the city GDP per year (43% energy, 29% transport, 21% for water, flood and waste and 7% for communications). Current public sector funding commitments from national and local governments is typically less than 50% of this level at 3-4% GDP per year. Funds compete with the need for housing, health, education, policing and fire services which total between 3 and 6% GDP per year.

Cities are collecting considerable amounts of data, sometimes into observatories, but struggle to use the data effectively for collaborative and efficient decisions. There is a data gap between data warehouses and data use for strategic policy and investment decision making. There is a need to turn the flood of data into wisdom on how to move to a more resilient future.

The Good News

New data driven tools are now becoming available that will enable smart selection of bankable projects and improved design planning and maintenance, so that the amount of money needed for creating and maintaining new and existing economic infrastructure is reduced by 40%, a potential saving of 3.5% GDP per year, moving down from a total of 8% GDP per year to a much more affordable 4.5% GDP per year.3&4

At the same time the private sector is rapidly scaling up Climate, Green and Social Impact bonds to support the public sector to deliver resilient cities and the new data driven tools will be able to support rolling them out by providing measurements of investment impact in planning, design, construction and operation. There is sufficient private sector capital available to meet the gap between current public expenditure in city regions of 3-4% GDP per year and the 4.5% GDP per year likely to be needed.1

More Productive Economic Infrastructure and Land Use

Smart Selection of Projects

Taking a systems approach, with an emphasis on projects that combine together to address city needs, as identified in the resilience strategy, will lead to creation of a well-thought-out affordable project portfolio. A key to the innovative approach is to reduce demand and change supply for each economic infrastructure service through a collaborative approach, starting with the next planned investment cycle. Nature based solutions are critical for this success.  Recommendations from the reports are summarised as follows:


Invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency, gradually ramping up access to electricity in the poorest areas. Decentralised provision of electrical energy from solar and gas from organic waste, combined with energy storage and local smart grids will lower grid costs and remove the need for some centralised power stations5. Plant city forests to reduce day and night temperatures.


Increase utilisation rates by focussing majority of investment (1% GDP per year) in rail and public transport, walking and cycling. Focus on higher density mixed use land development and promote a transition to all electric mobility by 2030. Promote walking and cycling in green corridors and pedestrianised areas, often replacing polluting and congested roads. Release land from roads for economic activity.

Water and sanitation

Provide safe water and sanitation for all using high quality systems, recycling treated water and combining it with collected rainwater. Use solid waste for gas supply and fertiliser for urban farming.

Flood Protection

Use Dutch standards for coastal flood protection and China ‘sponge city’ approach to river flooding, slowing run-off, with street permeability, run-off storage, water collection as it runs off buildings, all combined with nature-based solutions. Use water for irrigation of green spaces and trees and public toilet flushing.


Sorting and collection of municipal and industrial waste for recycling provides the opportunity to move to greater resource efficiency through a more circular economy. Construction materials can be increasingly mined from existing infrastructure. Cleaning up city land and waterways improves health and quality of life.


Invest in and maintain 4G and then 5G communication systems to make best use of the digital systems platform for overall demand and supply efficiency.

Phasing and project management to reduce project changes and delays

Integrated planning using a digital systems platform will enable phasing of projects to be considered in cities so that supply chains are not overstretched and material costs not inflated. Also planning can ensure that construction of one does not interfere with efficient delivery of another, mitigating the risk of accidental damage having a knock-on effect.

Increasing asset utilization, improving maintenance planning, and refining demand management for existing assets

Integrated planning can be done using digital platforms that include digital twin ‘process block’ data on utilisation, maintenance and demand. The original design can therefore scenario test these parameters as part of a ‘performance based’ procurement approach. In this way performance outcomes can be delivered and improved over the project lifetime at significantly lower costs.

Avoiding over-investing in infrastructure,

When existing infrastructure is not meeting demand efficiently there is a temptation to over invest. Some countries or regions have more physical infrastructure than they need; in such cases, building more brings little marginal value. So in a retrofit scenario making the existing infrastructure more efficient may be at least as good as building new inefficient infrastructure. A good example of this is building sponge city solutions which mitigate and adapt to flood risk, including nature-based solutions, rather than just building more flood protection infrastructure.  Build the efficient thing once.

In this field a new initiative called IcebreakerOne8 is being co-developed to enhance access to climate risk information so that investment can work harder to keep things safe, rather than paying more for things once they are broken.

Creating a Smart Partnership between National and City Region Government for Planning and procurement

Enhanced performance, with all the benefits it brings, requires a new relationship or ‘smart partnership’ between national and city region government, including partnering across district boundaries within the city region. The digital platform can provide a shared data basis for this.

A clearer recognition of the role of cities in achievement of national development goals can evolve from this with a more effective division of labour to strengthen the efficiency and integration of urban public services by municipal and local government.

Explicit attention to policies that make urban-rural linkages work better will be beneficial, as prosperous cities and prosperous rural areas depend on each other. For example using agricultural waste to create biogas for cities will bring cash back to farmers from the city economy, and recycling of nutrients from the city can help maintain soil quality for maintaining food productivity with less fertiliser use.

Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience

UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction UNDRR has established a process to co-design and develop the Global Risk Assessment Framework (GRAF)9 , so as to be able to inform decision-making and transform behaviour as never before in relation to disaster risk reduction and resilience in relation to all risks. It is intended that the design and development of the GRAF will support  City Region governments, amongst others, to achieve the global targets of all 2015 agreements.

The intention is within 5 years to provide decision makers with access to products, tools, demonstrations and scenarios at all scales (spatial and temporal) to better understand systems impacts and consequences to prevent risk creation, manage and reduce existing risk, including systemic risk, transition risks and emerging risks.

The stated aim is to foster a culture of inclusive, collaborative, and proactive behaviour based on interdisciplinary systems thinking which can further reduce the cost of achieving resilient outcomes.

An important way to do this efficiently is  to look beyond traditional engineering options to those based on natural ecosystems or processes. There is evidence that infrastructure options which incorporate these ecosystem-based approaches are more affordable and deliver wider societal benefits as well as reducing the immediate impact of the hazard.6

It is also recommended to focus on minimising the consequences of infrastructure failure rather than avoiding failure completely – for example by prioritising the resilience of critical infrastructure and having plans to minimise impacts when non-critical infrastructure fails;

Resilience-building can be incorporated into other relevant policies such as poverty alleviation and land-use planning.

The future approach will be to consider all the factors – the whole system – likely to be impacted by extreme weather and other risks, including geographical areas beyond those directly affected, and effects over decades, combining mitigation and adaptation.

Getting started

City managers and administrators are under huge pressure and do not have the time to pick up new ways of working, even if it brings longer term benefits. A potential way forward is to create a Resilience Infrastructure Investment Fund RIIF for scaling up and supporting training and capacity building of all local government departments for digital platform establishment, data collection, collaborative planning for sustainable project preparation and pipeline development and disaster risk reduction and resilience planning. Seed funding for this could come from the local philanthropic community on the basis of the huge long term social benefits it will bring, with a sum suggested between $1-2 per capita for the city region.

Long term sustainability of the fund can then come from establishing a regulated system in which the fund receives a levy of 2% of infrastructure investments made in the region using the digital platform, drawn from the savings of up to 40% created. The management systems can then be upgraded as tools like GRAF evolve.

In parallel the RIIF can be used to set up purchasing systems in which the resilience and sustainability criteria goals are used as performance objectives in all public sector procurement.

Roadmap 2030 Financing and implementing the Global Goals in Human Settlements and City Regions1 is an evolving open online manual to guide the process and to help create the smart partnerships.

Digital Systems Platform and Access to New Technologies

Resilience Brokers have been co-creating and prototyping an integrated systems modelling platform resilience.io7 suitable for delivering the affordable and practical outcomes outlined here. It aims to have these functions:

  • City-region scale integrated systems modelling of human, cultural, social, ecological health, including soils and nutrients, economics and resources. Process block digital twins for modelling resource flows and creating business cases for improved efficiency.
  • Connection to earth scale integrated systems modelling of weather, climate, ocean, biosphere and landscape dynamics.
  • Probabilistic analysis of systems risk across human and ecological systems and different combinations of cascading impacts to align with the evolving GRAF thinking
  • The intuitive user interfaces of will provide easy access to and growing understanding of the complexities and planetary context of each city region. Integrated data systems and structures in city regions will add value by helping stakeholders identify areas where they can reduce development costs and ensure that they are on track to achieving their targets.
  • The platform will have gaming capability for use by schools and students.

Technology and social innovations will be modelled and made available through Apps to enable other city regions to access and use them. This will give businesses, universities and entrepreneurs an added incentive to develop great ideas in their own city region, knowing the potential for scaling both locally and globally.

Resilience Brokers intend to work with others to co-evolve the platform to meet emerging needs and participate in the evolution of tools such as those within the GRAF vision and welcome organisations with expertise to join the collaboration..

The needed cultural shift

Many cities and regions are already tackling these issues and looking at how best to implement these systems level solutions. What is required is a cultural shift of governance structures towards collaborative systems thinking approaches. Resilience Brokers have established a network of cities, technology partners, sources of funding and world-leading experts in sustainability. The Resilience Brokers Network aims to provide a knowledge-sharing space for a growing community of practice to enable the rapid deployment and global scale up of systemic solutions to systemic problems. To find out more and to join the network complete the form at

Unlocking value in cities as outlined in this article, using systems approaches requires winning hearts and minds. Champions need help to secure buy-in, prototype solutions and embed learnings, and then scale the approach so that systems thinking underpins investment and planning decisions across all sectors. We hope this clearer understanding of the savings that can arise will incentivise rapid evolution and scale up.

[1] Roadmap 2030 Financing and Implementing the Global Goals in Human Settlements and City-Regions Editor Prof Peter Head. Creative Commons 2015

[2] Debut Video Accra WASH prototype 2016

[3] World Bank Beyond the Gap-How countries can afford infrastructure and protect the planet .February 2019.—how-countries-can-afford-the-infrastructure-they-need-while-protecting-the-planet

[4] Infrastructure productivity: How to save $1 trillion a year. (McKinsey 2013)

[5] Buildings as Power Stations-Indicative Benefits UK 2018

[6] Royal Society Report Resilience to Extreme Weather 2014

[7] Specifications and Scientific Papers

[8] IceBreakerOne

[9] The Global Risk Assessment Framework Concept Note July 2018 UNISDR