Cities around the world are going through a period of unprecedented growth and change. This means that the infrastructure that keeps cities running — from schools and hospitals through to housing and roads — will come under increasing stress. Extreme weather events and terrorism will only add to this pressure. With high global investment in infrastructure, the conditions are right for cities to start prioritizing resilience.
Resilience is a city’s ability to respond, grow and thrive in the face of shocks, such as floods and terrorist attacks, and stresses, such as unaffordable housing and pressure on public services. Much of the burden for this is borne by infrastructure. Cities that build resilience into their infrastructure projects do five things:
- Incorporate systems thinking into their decision-making, taking into account shocks and stresses
- Engage with diverse stakeholder communities in the planning process
- Integrate projects within a broader city vision that includes vulnerable populations
- Assess and build projects on the basis of long-term environmental, social and economic benefits, and ability to withstand short-term disruptions
- Recognize that infrastructure needs to adapt to new and unforeseen challenges
Three reasons to prioritize resilience are the following:
- The cities are subject to growing uncertainty.
- Rapid urbanization and globalization are putting cities under stress.
- The private sector has the funds and the will to invest.
EY partnered with 100RC on this study with an aim to explore how government and the private sector currently build urban resilience thinking into their infrastructure programs. We also wanted to ask how those groups could engage with each other better to plan, procure, deliver, finance and measure the costs and benefits of these types of investments. This would allow us to establish what good looks like, and recommend how city governments and the private sector could get there.
What our study said
When asked how well they understand and apply resilience thinking, policymakers and private sector players rate themselves (and each other) very differently.
City governments think they understand the challenges of urban resilience relatively better than others think they do. City governments also rate the private sector’s ability to incorporate resilience thinking into infrastructure projects more highly than the private sector itself does.
Applying resilience thinking throughout the life cycle of a project is a challenge for both city governments and the private sector.
Overall, resilience thinking is the strongest at the earliest stages of the project life cycle. After that, it drops off — with financing being the weakest point. Our study also revealed that city governments and the private sector are stronger and weaker at different stages of the cycle.
Neither the private nor the public sector is confident that there are sufficient incentives to consistently incorporate resilience thinking into infrastructure projects.
The survey showed that the private sector has some appetite to fund or build resilience thinking into its projects. But more than 50% of public and private sector respondents say that insufficient regulatory incentives and activating new revenue streams are a challenge.
How to get real about resilience
At EY and 100RC, we work with cities to help them build resilience into their infrastructure projects. So we’ve included suggestions from our survey respondents, along with things we’ve learned from our work with clients, on how to close the current perception gaps between city governments and the private sector:
City governments need to put words into action. It isn’t enough to engage stakeholders and build resilience into planning guidelines. For the private sector to integrate resilience into its work, policymakers need to ensure that resilience strategy translates into action — then make sure strategy translates into action.
The private sector needs an incentive to incorporate resilience thinking into its work. That means, it needs to understand the benefits that the city is seeking to achieve and how that affects its ROI. By clearly articulating the systemic impacts of the projects it’s pursuing, the private sector can improve the prospects of future projects.
For suggestions from EY and 100RC across all of the stages of the infrastructure life cycle, download the full report.