Resilient cities must be able to spring back from catastrophe, according to Bekele Geleta

The story of humanity is now the story of the city. The slow migration from rural to urban living became a torrent in the 20th century and, by the middle of this century, 80% of the world’s population will call a city their home; 4 billion will be under 30.

Of course, “the city” is not a singular object; Addis Ababa is different from London, London is different from Rio, and Rio is different from Tokyo. However, the challenges and opportunities may be familiar across them all.

The challenge we face is creating or developing resilient cities. By resilient, I mean the ability for a city – from its architecture and infrastructure to its commerce and communities – to spring back from catastrophe, returning its populations to normalcy, making them stronger and more resilient to future shocks.

This goes to the core of what the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement seeks to achieve, and has an impact on every part of our work, whether that’s a community-based health programme for mothers in Afghanistan, or high-level diplomacy among the decision-makers in Davos.

So what is a resilient city?

Resilience means being prepared. As well as the obvious things, such as safe routes to higher ground or buildings that can withstand the stresses of an earthquake, resilient cities will have good, reliable water and sanitation systems, opportunities for education and employment, power and transport services, access to health services, and cooperation between authorities and communities.

It means being quick to act in the event of disaster. A strong, cohesive community that understands risk reduction, disaster response, communication and first aid becomes a band of first responders. Beyond the community, modern logistics can ensure the right emergency supplies arrive in the right place, at the right time.

In resilient cities, the interests and expressions of young people are solicited and considered, and access to education, training and opportunities promote entrepreneurship and employment, allowing them to achieve their potential. Often it is the “disruptive innovations” of the young that drive change, as we saw during the Arab Spring, where Red Crescent youth volunteers in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia were instrumental in promoting a culture of non-violence and peace by their presence in both physical and virtual spaces. Here we saw youth as agents of change, in dialogue across generations and ideologies.

And, finally, resilience means being part of long-term support for those who need it, which could mean providing shelter while homes are rebuilt, supporting livelihoods as businesses are re-established, or running violence prevention workshops in communities where tensions are high.

Success here brings both rewards and problems. A resilient city will attract those seeking a better life or more opportunity, and so the more we achieve, in terms of creating these new spaces, the more we need to achieve to make them sustainable.

That may be the real development challenge for the 21st century.

Author: Bekele Geleta, Secretary-General, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

Image: Pictured a policeman directing traffic in Shanghai REUTERS/Carlos Barria