Urban Adaptation: where are the towns?


Urban adaptation has shot up the adaptation agenda in recent years, sparking a huge number of city-driven initiatives – for example 100 resilient cities, the C40 network, and the Global Covenant of Mayors. Interesting and innovative work being carried out in places as diverse as Cape Town and Caracas, London and Lusaka, has built a wealth of understanding on the ways that adaptation can be integrated into urban planning agendas, and the coalitions of groups needed for effective action. At the same time, development banks like the World Bank and European Investment Bank have placed increasing focus on building urban resilience through their projects and programmes.

All of this is fantastic, but it seems to me that while there has (understandably) been a focus on large cities and major capitals, what is missing from the conversation is how we do adaptation in small and mid-sized towns. What are the specific challenges for smaller urban areas? What are the similarities and differences with doing adaptation in larger, more economically powerful cities? Which lessons are transferable, and where do we need different ways of engaging? Smaller urban areas contribute a great deal to local economies and provide centres for regional social and cultural activities. They face a similar set of climate risks, principally related to flooding and overheating, but may not have the same resources to bring to bear on the problems, and sit within markedly different governance structures.

The level of control over decision-making between cities, which frequently have elected mayors, revenue-raising powers, and control over issues such as transport and housing, and towns, where power more often sits at a district level, or sits with central government is significant, and changes the options which are available in responding to climate risks. We shouldn't assume that the lessons from adaptation in our major cities are necessarily transferrable, nor should we neglect towns and small urban areas. In the UK, the recently-launched Centre for Towns seeks to improve research on the viability and prosperity of towns; in a similar vein I would like to see a network of resilient towns raising the profile, and challenges of adaptation, in places from Wells to Wymondham, Nanyuki to Nyanga. Urban adaptation has made a lot of progress – time now to broaden the focus and include the full range of urban areas.

Interested in more on urban resilience? Why not join us in May in Lisbon for our 1-day Academy on Urban Adaptation and Resilience before the ECCA conference?

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