“Resilience is the ability of any city to cope with any disaster or stress that may come its way.”, Amit Prothi, Head of India National Strategy, 100RC

Resilient cities are the cities of today, tomorrow and future, but, the meaning of resilience is what needs to be understood in a whole new paradigm given the complexities surrounding the Indian cities. Talking about the recently announced initiative of 100 Resilient Cities (100 RC) by Rockfeller Foundation in collaboration with National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), Amit Prothi, Head of India National Strategy, 100RC talks to Manali Jaggi of BW SmartCities about what the term resilience truly constitutes and the need to convene a broad base of all stakeholders in building strong partnerships with an intent of driving the urban resilience agenda at the national and state level.

Tell us more about 100RC? What kind of assistance and expertise do you bring to the table regarding this?

This next 100 years, cities are going to be a very important place for humanity. You already have half of the world’s population living in cities. But there are three major trends that are happening- Urbanization, Climate Change and Globalization. The Rockefeller Foundation wanted to do something about the change that is coming to cities in the coming 100 years, so they decided to set up a global competition through 100 Resilient Cities. They invited cities to come apply for this competition where we will provide support in helping them think about resilience. We received more than 1,000 applications; 100 cities were selected. Four cities in India were selected, including Jaipur, Pune, Surat and Chennai. 

What 100 Resilient Cities does is we give cities these kinds of support: 

  1. Chief Resilience Officer: The CRO is equivalent of a CEO, except in this context, they are thinking about what are the issues surrounding resilience in their respective cities. We sponsor these CROs for two years.
  2. Resilient Strategy: We help cities highlight what are the key urban resilience challenges for each city and what must we prioritize and address so that the city is more resilient in the future.

Resilience is the ability of any city to cope with any disaster or stress that may come its way. As cities are experiencing more and more stresses, there is an innate need to build resilience because if you are not, these stresses can become a disaster. We have a framework that we offer cities. The framework talks about what kind of leadership you have in the city. What kind of infrastructure do you have in your city? What kind of economic stability do you have in your city? How much community engagement do you have in your city?  There is a component of social cohesion that can help a city quickly recover from a disaster. Our process is based on a significant amount of stakeholder considerations – a lot of working groups and a lot of conversations. We are trying to build capacity in a city to understand the topic. The strategy process is through partnership between Government and non-Government actors.

How important do you think is equal public participation in making our cities more resilient and sustainable?

Cities are built for people. Our process for strategy preparation is very inclusive. For example, in Chennai, when we started to talk about what are the key risks to the city, it was done through extensive surveys, including field visits to some slum areas. This was to understand what are the risks that people perceive in their city. We have a lot of working groups involved, which are not just Government – but other experts, as well. The bigger question is ‘what is public participation?’ ‘What is the purpose of it?’ In our city work, all of it has a heavy amount of public participation. In Chennai, we have reached a preliminary resilience assessment phase, which is essentially saying what are the key topics that we need to look at in the resilience strategy – and one of them is around community engagement which has to be done through behaviour change. We are engaging with other actors (like NGOs) and they all come into these working groups voluntarily because they all want to contribute to what Chennai can do for resilience. 

What are the challenges and issues peculiar to Indian cities as compared to other cities in the world?

Indian cities are growing very quickly. I work with other cities like Seoul, Singapore and several U.S. cities – the rate of growth is not as fast. Where can you point to a city in India that has declined?

  • Infrastructure gap
  • Rapid growth – the ability to manage that growth is still a big challenge.
  • Data gaps; we still do not know how cities are growing.
  • Cities have limited authority to manage that growth; a lot of decision-making is happening at other levels. The city only has control over certain aspects and the state has others.
  • Decision-making is very much top-down or Government-centric.
  • The private sector is still not very engaged.

There is a lack of awareness about how individual decisions contribute to the larger problem. It is not that people do not care. It is that they do not know how what they can do. If we can start to address that and people can start to understand how they are a part of the system, you can start to make some difference.

Are you partnering with the Government under the Smart Cities Mission or taking up independent projects?

100RC does not give funding for implementation. We are trying to work closely with the Smart City Mission in the four cities that we are working in. And we are trying to see how some of the recommendations that are coming out of work can either be funded by Smart Cities or some of the Smart City initiatives that have been taken can become more resilient. We are still early in our work and will be making recommendations six to eight months down the road.