From Accra to Yiwu, 100 cities around the world have taken the challenge of becoming more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges of the 21st century.

Cities around the world are under pressure, and Australia is no exception. Our population is increasing and becoming more urbanised. With almost 90 per cent of Australians living in urban areas, the growing population is making more demands on our built environment and its infrastructure, housing supplies and essential services, which in turn face challenges including climate change and extreme weather events.

The key to facing these challenges is resilience, defined as “the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses and systems within a city to survive, adapt and grow no matter what kind of chronic stresses and acute shocks they may experience.”

Chronic stresses are the problems that affect a city on a day-to-day or regular basis. They may include things such as food shortages, a lack of affordable housing or infrastructure issues like an overtaxed transport system. Acute shocks are sudden, severe single-event crises, such as earthquakes, floods, extreme heatwaves or even terrorist acts.

These stresses and shocks can cause significant disruption and damage to cities and their residents and, given that systems within a city are interconnected, can create multiple problems. The cost of acute shocks is high, with $17 billion estimated by the Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience and Safer Communities to be spent on rebuilding critical infrastructure after natural disasters by 2050.

In 2013, the Rockefeller Foundation – continuing its century-old mission of promoting the well-being of humanity throughout the world – launched its 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) project to help cities around the world be more equipped to handle the predicted challenges, particularly in the face of climate change.

Rockefeller Foundation managing director Martin Leibowitz said it was crucial to work on the development of urban resilience now.

“In many ways, cities are our greatest risk. The challenges presented by climate change, rapid migration, and disasters – both man-made and natural – most acutely affect cities,” he said.

“But cities are also our greatest opportunity. They are the places where innovation happens, where solutions that improve lives are born, where wealth generation is accelerated and where efficiency gains are most achievable. And as the world becomes increasingly urban, there has never been a more important time to be undertaking this work.”

The 100RC project involves cities in six continents and across 14 time zones, including Australia. Melbourne and Sydney are two of the 100 cities that were chosen from more than 1,000 applicants. The 100 Resilient Cities receive funding and support for a Chief Resilience Officer (CRO), who will lead the development of the city’s resilience efforts, and to form a resilience strategy tailored to each city’s unique characteristics and needs.

The City of Sydney began working toward its resilience strategy in June 2015, with an Agenda Setting Workshop bringing together 150 stakeholders from a wide range of sectors to discuss the critical issues. In September 2015, the city appointed Beck Dawson as CRO. In Melbourne, Toby Kent was appointed CRO in December 2014 and the Resilient Melbourne team released the City of Melbourne’s resilience strategy in June of 2016.

With an overall replacement cost for Australia’s built environment estimated in excess of $5.4 trillion, the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC) aims to ensure that resilience forms an important and integrated part of Government policy framework, and that the built environment sector is equipped to address resilience.

In 2012, ASBEC released its Built Environment Adaptation Framework, which outlined a national approach to delivering resilience in the built environment in the face of climate change. Now, ASBEC is working on helping built environment decision makers understand what resilience means for the projects they deliver.

Later this month, ASBEC will release a set of resilience information sheets for cities, infrastructure and housing. These information sheets aim to help professionals involved in planning, design, delivery and operation in the built environment embed resilience principles into their decision-making and begin a discussion with stakeholders and supply chains.

An integrated approach to resilience thinking – from national policy to individual decision-making – is vital to the well-being of urban communities. There are a great many organisations working together to deliver more resilient communities and cities and it’s an exciting time to be involved!