What makes a city truly resilient? And what does a resilient future look like?

A resilient waterscape – what does this mean for Bristol? These were just some of the key questions debated at our recent resilience roundtable forum in Bristol; a group of some of the city’s foremost leaders, influencers and stakeholders from across the public and private sectors as well as academic and NGO representation. The discussion centered on the resilience of Bristol’s waterscape, exploring not only what this means, but how Bristol can actively respond to future challenges to maintain its status as an attractive city.

The way cities manage their waterscape has a lot to do with their ability to attract and retain businesses and residents. In defining what resilience means in the context of our cities, it was agreed that it refers to how quickly and easily we can respond and adapt to both immediate shocks and longer term chronic stressors that are outside the control of the city and its authorities. The group termed the phrase ‘bounce-backability’ to neatly cover what we want from a resilient system.

As a result of climate change extreme weather events, coastal erosion and water scarcity are becoming more common place. In Bristol, threats come from tidal surge on the River Avon, or problems caused by surface water flooding following a major storm. This, coupled with the effects of an ever-growing population, means that many properties in the city are currently at risk. 

It’s not just about the cost of clean-up and recovery though. The cumulative cost of lost opportunities and lost business due to inaccessibility can have an extended impact on a city already prone to flooding. But we need an understanding of how to capture the economic impact of flooding.

So what’s the solution? 

The making of a successful city

There are a number of components that make up a successful city; a water resilient city is well prepared to overcome the challenges of both too little as well as too much water.  A water resilient city is also able to attract investment and talent in order to create a vibrant local environment and forge economic success.

The fact is, Bristol is already an attractive and successful city. The high number of leisure and business visitors to the region is already generating an additional £1.3 billion for the local economy every single year. 

Bristol needs continued impetus in resilience to maintain its attractiveness and secure its future success. This will require co-ordination and greater collaboration across both public and private sectors for the long-term success of the city.  

Applying lessons from the global pool 

There is much we can learn from our Dutch neighbours. Rotterdam emerged as the lead Resilient City in our Sustainable Cities Water Index, due in part to its innovative and proactive approach to water resiliency; implementing a Chief Resilience Officer and implementing the Adaptation Strategy. 

Although below sea level, the city and country are well known for excellent water management and robust flood protection practices, with continuous investment programmes in dykes, dunes and flood barriers. 

What next for Bristol?

Whilst many cities elaborate a resilience strategy, we see very few succeed to implement this strategy, to integrate it in their masterplanning, and to make it real. Bristol needs to learn from the successful cities. But funding the right solution is tricky. Single benefit schemes are difficult to justify and usually  result in some form of compromise, whereas multiple-function schemes mean that resiliency is more likely to be achieved.

Cross sector collaboration will provide Bristol with the platform to excel in its resilience endeavours, seeing both risk and opportunity in equal light, allowing multi-functional solutions to address bankability issues.

Whilst the formal responsibility sits with public sector, seeking wider stakeholder involvement to “harness all the ideas” can help elevate the issues to the front of the queue and move more quickly to the answers. 

Against the backdrop of regional devolution, Bristol has the opportunity to become more proactive and engage with public and private sector partners to explore finance and funding options directly, developing its own business case to support multi-functional adaptation measures. 

We have a 15 year window to react and deliver – beyond this timescale the demographic and our assumptions on climate change will have shifted – the tipping point seems to be now for Bristol.

Richard Bonner

City Executive for Bristol Ask me a question