Is your city resilient enough to handle disaster? And are you?

No city's emergency plan focuses enough on what we can do to protect ourselves, like planting trees, stiffening homes against wind and getting survival gear

city disasterTORONTO, Ont., March 29, 2017 /Troy Media/ – City resiliency is like the old philosophical question about whether a tree falling in the forest with no one there makes a noise. A city would not have to be very resilient if it didn’t get hit by weather events, nor if it only had a sparse population. It’s the combination of lots of people and lots of weather that creates the danger.

Some blame climate change. Others blame “acts of God.”

But author Greg Ip, writing in the Wall Street Journal, notes the obvious: “millions of productive people live and work in a place that is inherently dangerous.”

In recent memory, New York City has built two airports, expressways and bridges, and attracted trendy residents to former factories in Soho, Tribeca, and the Lower East Side. All this adds up to “so much more wealth” standing in the way of storms, wildfires and other natural disasters.

Despite the crime of the 1970s, the high cost of housing, 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis and superstorm Sandy, New York has attracted 400,000 new residents in recent years. Why? If you visit New York, you will understand that the answer is simply that it’s New York – the new Rome, the Big Apple, the place to be. If you don’t go to New York regularly, please do.

Ip is the author of a book called Foolproof: Why Safety Can Be Dangerous and How Danger Makes Us Safe. The title sounds odd until you think about it. Terrorists don’t do their deeds in the woods – they perform grisly acts on TV and YouTube, and preferably in world capitals where all can see.

You might think a world capital is safer because of sophisticated policing. But the example I like to use is that the long safety checklist performed on the Swissair flight that crashed near Peggy’s Cove, N.S., was a safety measure. Other pilots have junked the checklist and landed safely – minus the safety system.

And why is danger an effective safety system? Don’t we all remind our kids how dangerous it is to cross the road? We’re trying to get them to look both ways.

Ip notes the current danger and the cost for urban areas. If the great Miami hurricane of 1926 struck now, the cost wouldn’t be the $1 billion it was, it would be $200 billion. About 10 per cent of the world’s population lives in cities vulnerable to cyclones and earthquakes, and that will be more like 16 per cent by 2050. The 10 cities most vulnerable to coastal flooding generate more than five per cent of world gross domestic product, and that is growing as Asian cities join Miami, New York, New Orleans, Osaka-Kobe and others.

We’re all going to lose a lot of money as the weather hits these areas. We all lost a lot in the 2008 financial crisis, whether we lived in New York or America or not.

Some cities are trying to become more resilient. Some cities on water are demolishing waterside homes and making parks that handle flooding much better. The Netherlands has a Room for the River project, for example.

Boston built a park that absorbs water. Other cities just note the danger of flooding and heat, but don’t note that the obvious solution to both is trees.

No city’s emergency plan focuses enough on what individuals can do to protect themselves. Homeowners can plant trees, disconnect downspouts from the storm sewer, stiffen up homes against high winds, raise appliances, valuables, water heaters and electrical boxes off the basement floor, stock survival gear and so on.

Instead of these solutions, some cities list the hundreds of critical facilities that are vulnerable, including emergency command centres and evacuation shelters.

Too often we’re on our own, folks, because our cities aren’t resilient enough.

Troy Media columnist Dr. Allan Bonner has consulted on some of the major planning and public policy issues of our time on five continents over 25 years. He is the author of Safer Cities. Allan is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by all Troy Media columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Troy Media.

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