Your city is a gold mine, why not protect it?

Battles are raging between the world’s biggest cities. You may not realize it as a visitor or even a resident, but behind the scenes these metropolises are in fierce competition, each jostling for position to attract the most inward investment and the brightest talent.

Battles are raging between the world’s biggest cities. You may not realize it as a visitor or even a resident, but behind the scenes these metropolises are in fierce competition, each jostling for position to attract the most inward investment and the brightest talent. I see this played out in a huge number of cities on each and every continent, and it’s getting hotter out there.

All of these cities are looking to create jobs, generate additional tax base, commission iconic developments, become business and transport hubs, be desirable travel destinations and be seen as thriving, vibrant, livable cities. This is a big ask.

So, how exactly does a city gain an advantage in this race? It isn’t an easy question to answer but a lot of it comes down to ambition. As I said in my recent speech at the World Cities Summit Mayor’s Forum in my hometown of New York City, cities, like businesses, need to invest in the right things if they are to realize a competitive advantage.

Take, for instance, Singapore and Dubai, two regional powerhouses three-and-a-half thousand miles apart. These two cities are currently going head-to-head in the race to become the dominant aviation hub in southern Asia. The rewards are high and each is bringing a formidable competitive response to market. Dubai is investing in a new airport while Changi, Singapore’s airport, is investing in a third runway, a new terminal and an aeropolis vision.

However, this is only part of the picture. Moving the needle in a city’s favor doesn’t need to be confined merely to state-of-the-art transport networks and flashy commercial developments. One area that I believe many cities are currently not focusing on enough is resiliency. A lot of changes are happening to our planet at a speed the world has never seen before. Admittedly, this may not seem quite as “sexy” as constructing the world’s tallest tower or longest suspension bridge. But, if the megacities of tomorrow are going to make the grade come the middle of the century, they are going to have to invest in resiliency and plan for the future.

So, what exactly do we mean by this word ‘resiliency’? I personally subscribe to the Rockefeller Foundation’s holistic definition. That is to say the three prongs of the physical, defined by the likes of shoreline protection and green spaces; the social, such as neighborhood cohesion, inclusionary housing practices and literacy; and economic, defined by business continuity, supply chain management and the ease of doing business.

Investing and building-in these resistant systems means that mayors and city leaders will be better able to mitigate and even prevent shocks and stresses, while growing stronger through the process. This, in turn, will drive all of the benefits of a high-performing, ecologically friendly, vibrant place to live and work.

On a purely financial footing, it is only a matter of time before indices measuring resiliency are used by bond investors and insurers to price the risks in and around cities. How well urban areas could mitigate those risks will soon not only directly affect their perceived attractiveness, but their authorities’ ability to raise capital. In short, future-proofing is going to be big business very soon.

Investing in at-risk shorelines in New York is a great example of a resiliency program designed to reduce coastal flood risk. Dubbed raising shorelines, it is a $100 million plus investment designed to reduce the chance of coastal flooding in unarmored areas that are vulnerable to sea-level rise and erosion. In time, the fruits of this should be passed down to the area’s residents and businesses through greater peace of mind, socio-economic stability and, ultimately, more equitable insurance rates.

Gone are the days when a city was merely a place to live and work. Today, our global cities are flexible, ever-changing and intent on honing their competitive edge, and that is not going to change any time soon. The key to keeping ahead of the pack is to make sure these places are fit for tomorrow and fend off the worst that nature can throw at them. After all, the cities that invest in resiliency now are ensuring they will be around to welcome in the next millennium and could also end up sitting on a potential gold mine.

John Batten

Global Director of Cities Ask me a question