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News & opinion

8 JUN 2018

Cities must prioritize resilient design

Resilient design and building will become the key to a city’s success. It has already become a critical topic to be addressed in the industry and the need for responsible stewardship at all levels of influence cannot be overstated.

Countries have different ways of addressing resiliency according to RICS Summit Series 2018 resilience panelists in New York last month. Panelists included Stuart Brodsky, Clinical Assistant and Director of the Center for the Sustainable Built Environment at New York University Schack Institute of Real Estate, Dale Todd, Vice President at J.P. Morgan Asset Management Global Real Estate, and Edgar Westerhof, North American National Director of Flood Risk and Resiliency at Arcadis.

According to Brodsky and Westerhof, the U.S. currently seems to hold a defensive position, where effective systems are in place to address pre-disaster communications and immediate disaster response, but there is a lack of preventative measures and planning integrated into our built environment.

The inherent issue with the U.S.’s strategy, according to Todd, is that disasters are unpredictable. Solutions should include more forward-thinking strategies rather than just responding to past historical data. In most cases, it was not that there was no pre-planning, strategy, or training involved in disaster planning and response, but the existing measures fell short. For example, historically, there have been times when pre-evacuated zones were not even hit due to a shift in a storm’s course and the inherent unpredictability of the natural disaster. Much time and money was spent displacing and inconveniencing the populations at risk that could have been avoided if those zones were designed with resilience in mind.

The inherent issue with the U.S.’s strategy, according to Todd, is that disasters are unpredictable. Solutions should include more forward-thinking strategies rather than just responding to past historical data.

The panel recommended a shift from solely relying on pre-planning for disasters to designing and implementing resiliency measures into the fabric of a building or city. This may include a range of scales and methods: anything from reliance on preventative engineered systems to better building codes tailored specifically for at-risk locations.

At its current pace, progress is crawling, at best. There needs to be a bigger push for implementing more robust solutions. Standards for resilience across the spectrum of building typologies need to be in place for at-risk locations as the current marketplace is not incentivized enough to drive good decision-making.

All the panelists agreed that federal and state leadership are both imperative in implementing change and driving progress. Larger conversations are required to build resilient communities and drive strategic planning that goes beyond political boundaries. Integrating resilience into projects and stimulating the market for more resilient and sustainable design should not only be encouraged, but enforced in some manner.

It is also essential for communities and citizens to be included in the conversation. They need to be educated about the risks at hand, understand the potential fallout, and be given the tools and support to be able to deal with these potential issues.

The debate about scale remains. Should these issues be addressed locally, regionally, or nationally? Currently, private companies and investors are leading the charge. Unfortunately, according to Todd, they can only really influence or impact their own constituents. Not only that, but the cost of resiliency measures can only realistically be borne by the higher end of the market, leaving the remaining communities exposed. It is necessary to generate a broader discussion and encourage society to implement effective solutions.

Westerhof believes within the next two decades, we will start to see major cities in the world begin to fail. If effective measures are not implemented soon in at-risk locations, the rest of the world will need to learn from these failures and adapt quickly.

According to Brodsky, studies show that government influence is still the major motivating factor in adopting sustainability measures. In order for real change to occur, government needs to also promote the incorporation of resiliency measures into the communities it serves. What remains to be seen is whether change is on the horizon and if so, whether it will be timely and ambitious enough to weather the next storm.

Minna Choi, Master of Science Candidate in Construction, Administration at Columbia University