Resilient cities are water smart cities

Blog Nov 10, 2016

Citizens are the patrons of their societies and key in shaping their cities urban water vision. They can adapt their behaviours and build viable societies that are robust enough to respond to the impacts of climate change.

In many countries, city governments will lead on the implementation of their national adaptation and mitigation plans (aka Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs). Their initiatives, matched with their sometimes higher ambition, have the potential to surpass national targets.

During COP 22 in Marrakesh this week, SIWI and the City of Stockholm showcased approaches to the creation of blue and green corridors through urban environments during our event Water Solutions for Resilient Cities. Whether less traditional solutions – such as by using pineapple scraps, it highlighted the many ways cities are already working together on urban water and climate visions.

A Stockholm-native, it was fascinating for me to hear our Deputy Mayor for Environment, Katarina Luhr, share the city’s progressive work on water management and climate impact preparedness, for example, the new, city-wide, strategy for storm-water management decided on by the City Council decided in 2015. The City of Stockholm is also a member of the visionary global city leadership group C40, who was also represented at the event by its Director of Research, Seth Schultz.  

C40’s work illustrates that cities can drive global change. When asked if it had been challenging connecting city leaders from all over the world and from such different environments, for collaborative action, Seth emphasized that albeit with shifting dynamics, water management is generally a shared priority among cities.

This is in part due to urban water systems already facing unreliable supply – a situation made worse by climate change. With nearly 80% of C40 cities reliant on surface water for their water supply, their potential exposure to changing climate conditions is even higher.

Whether through regenerative water services, planning for uncertainty by creating green infrastructure, or by securing water quality for future generations, water smart cities must become the new standard.

Mark Fletcher, Global Water Leader for global engineering firm Arup, is optimistic. During the event, he reiterated that in order to meet both shock change, such as storms, and incremental change, such as sea level rise, we need to design with water.

As global citizens, it is not unlikely that we will, at some point in our lives, live in cities. How do we want the urban environment to look? Cities where natural infrastructure is given space, and where lakes, rivers, parks and recreational areas exist next to green roofs, are certainly possible. Cities that respect the natural water cycle as much as hydro-climate hazard preparedness are essential, and they are leading the way.