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People make resilient cities

27 Mar 2018 | Jamie Cooke

The resilient cities of the future will be those which best support, involve and empower their citizens. 

When discussing the resilience of our cities, it can often be automatic to focus on certain key areas – climate change, natural disasters, acts of terrorism. These are crucial challenges for any city; however, they are not in themselves sufficient to create the types of resilient communities that we will require in order to flourish in future. They help us devise plans for huge shocks to the system; but I believe success will be rooted in the ability of cities like Glasgow to best harness the talents and ambitions of their citizens.

What will this success look like? I think it will have several core characteristics – an inclusive economy; a new social contract (i.e. the relationships, expectations and obligations which exist between citizens, their communities and the state); an openness to the world; and a revitalised local democracy.

An inclusive economy will be one which every citizen can both participate in and benefit from. For too long we’ve focused on trickling down the benefits of economic growth to communities who are excluded from it, without properly addressing that very exclusion. 

By leaving generations disconnected from meaningful work and economic activity, we squander their potential and resource. An inclusive economy needs to evolve with the changing world around us – automation will bring new opportunities, while eliminating some existing positions, so we need to create flexibility and confidence in workers that they are able to adapt and move to new and developing positions.

The social contract in the UK, expressed through our social policies and developed in the consensus of the post-war period, has become strained over recent decades through both deliberate political design and failure to evolve with a changing world. We have shifted from a supportive relationship between citizen and state, to one based on sanctions and the language of ‘scroungers’ and ‘cheats’. 

A resetting of this relationship is essential to building communities resilient to future challenges. I believe this will be rooted in the introduction of a basic income – an old idea which has gained significant traction in recent years. 

By providing a security for all citizens which is embedded in trust that they are best placed to make spending decisions for their lives, we create the space for a revitalised relationship between citizens and state. The world of work is changing at a phenomenal pace – our social contract has to change with it.

Openness to the world means that resilient cities will be those which don’t just focus on their current citizens, but also reach out to those potential citizens in other parts of the world. They must become attractive destinations, desirable places to live, work and flourish – not simply inevitable endpoints or least-worst scenarios. Cities play important roles within nations, but they also serve as connection points to global networks – the successful, thriving cities of the future will be those which demonstrate they are global hubs, as Glasgow is doing in collaboration with other forward looking cities such as Pittsburgh.

Finally, resilient cities will be those which have reinvigorated their local democracy. One of the sad, and damaging, factors of political life in Scotland over recent decades has been the undermining of trust and connection to local politics due to over-centralisation of power and focus. 

Decision making needs to be devolved to the most local level possible, to allow for communities to tap into their own skills, knowledge and ambitions.  A future city which acts as a facilitator for local decision making, allowing space for communities to move forward while contributing into the common good of the city as a whole, will find themselves better able to tap into the resources which their people can bring to the table, improving and deepening the overall success of the city.

Trends suggest that the future is urban, as an ever greater percentage of the world’s population flock to live in cities.  But those trends could take us to a dystopia of overcrowded, depersonalised urban sprawls riddled with disease and poverty.  Focusing in on the multi-faceted resilience of our cities, based on the people who live there now and who might live there in future, will allow us to chart a different, more positive future – one where cities are lynchpins of their global networks, sharing creativity and progress, and collaborating with the regions surrounding them. I believe we are making a start on this positive future in Glasgow; here’s to seeing the resilient city flourish through the qualities of its people.

Read more about resilience in the related blogs in our series:

Can Asset Based Community Development build wellbeing and resilience in communities?

Surprises at work: building resilience through recognition and appreciation

Promoting resilience in the early years through citizenship

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Can Asset Based Community Development build wellbeing and resilience in communities?

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Promoting resilience in the early years through citizenship

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