City management

Scira Menoni and Funda Atun (POLIMI)

There are various styles and approaches to city management: participatory, centralized, delegating to local neighborhoods. City management is informed by laws, policies, rules and norms that are defined at different scales, from municipal to metropolitan to global.

As the trend towards urbanization has been growing fast in the last decade, international organizations such as the World Bank, OECD and United Nations have lavished attention to cities, to how they have been changing and evolving and to defining guidelines to support the difficult task of planning and managing cities of the present age.

City managers are confronted with an ever rising pile of demands raised by citizens who are asking for better services, faster communications, greener spaces, and by new obligations set by policies including environmental sustainability, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. Creating a bridge between the latter three is a necessity if they are to present an opportunity for knowledge exchange. The same managers are in fact pressured to deal and implement all those policies, for which no additional financial or human resources are expected to be invested by governments shrinking their role and interventional capacity. Clearly, though, some cities are better equipped than others in facing contemporary challenges that are not only associated with the natural environment but also with social, political and economic issues.

There are however some issues that link the type of administrative culture of a city with the challenges it faces in dealing with DRR. One important aspect relates to the existence or absence of vertical and horizontal integration between offices and officers in charge of different aspects of city management.

Fragmentation and separation of competences is often the prevailing style of government, undermining the benefits from investments and initiatives as the latter risk remaining piecemeal and ineffective if not properly coordinated. In many analyses of initiatives taken for climate change, adaptation even in countries with very good tradition in public administration, separation among offices and personnel, lack of communication among the latter has produced partial and unsatisfactory results. The same can be said for risk prevention, scattered among a large number of ministries, agencies, and even at the local scale uncoordinated among the bureaus that could benefit from collaboration and integration of practices and procedures.

The field of disasters is even more complex, as it is not restricted to the traditional arena of city managers and planners, but must necessarily include those actors that intervene during an emergency, such as the army, fire brigades, police, medical doctors that do not have generally a strong role in cities’ governance. They are asked to play a role only limitedly to disaster impact and recovery.

In order to better complement and integrate policies, however, it would be recommended to involve such actors more broadly, taking into account their perspective also when deciding about critical infrastructures location, about development zones, about preservation projects of historic centres.

A new type of collaboration between public and private sectors as well as with civic associations and groups is called for. In the field of disaster risk prevention there is an increasing recognition of the mutual interest of public and private organizations to work together, exchange data, information and define common strategies to avoid cities’ functional disruption during and after an extreme event’s impact.

In this respect insurers are already collaborating in Norway and France to provide their data deprived from sensitive elements in order to inform about past and future potential risks at the city and even at the asset level.

Critical infrastructures providers are increasingly burdened by responsibilities public authorities and citizens’ associations charge them with. This may induce them to more openly sharing data and their understanding of how a disaster may impact on key lifelines and services and define jointly with emergency managers and city planners improved responses and better risk mitigation measures.

Strategies and intervention across the “disaster cycle”

Aspects to be considered to make critical infrastructures more resilient to disasters (after Linkov et al., 2013)

The image above highlights the types of capacities that need to be put in place in particular to make critical infrastructures such as lifelines resilient to disasters. On the ‘x’ axis the different phases are representing in which different behaviours are required: before the event it is necessary to plan adequately, during the emergency it is necessary to absorb the stress and respond, during recovery fast return to normalcy is required even putting in place temporary repair measures. In the reconstruction it is necessary to learn from the event in order to revise procedures and design that proved to be unsuccessful or unsatisfactory.

The capacities that are necessary are distinguished between: physical, necessary to make infrastructures more redundant, better equipped with safe-fail mechanisms; informational, related to the best use of data and information to support decision making at each phase; cognitive, related to the understanding and the early detection of critical domino effects potential; and social, mainly related to the organizational capacity to coordinate and intervene in case of need. The capacities are obviously both “hard” and “soft”.

In the prevention phase

At the global scale, the Resilient Cities Campaign carried out by UNISDR has been certainly the most eminent example of large-scale initiatives aiming directly at the city level; similar stance has been taken by the Rockefeller Foundation with the “100 Resilient Cities” project. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction addresses all spatial levels, specifying for each the main targets to be achieved in the next fifteen years.

The main issue with all those initiatives is their very general approach that needs to be interpreted and applied at the city level, ranging from metropolitan areas, where real interventions have to be carried out down to the single neighborhoods or district level, to medium small cities. In both cases it is key to have

on the one hand a strategy that combines typical demands of services and functions raised by social and economic agents with environmental and safety concerns a

on the other to leverage the latter into ordinary plans and programs.

This is perhaps the most difficult to achieve as until now risk mitigation measures and climate change adaptation have been pursued separately from other ordinary policies to manage cities.

In the prevention phase a number of decisions can be made to avoid exposure in the most hazardous zones, reduction of physical and systemic vulnerabilities to the multiple stresses that may affect the city, and finally structural measures to reduce the hazards’ intensity and/or frequency. A mix of measures is generally more likely to be effective, depending on the specific characteristics of the context and the risks at stake.

Pre-disaster awareness as regards the significance of cultural heritage pays off during the pressing emergency phase and also, having in place a strategy for the preservation of cultural heritage including institutions and legislation, as well as inventories and documentation of historic buildings and their contents. Furthermore, it would be highly advantageous to already have in place a disaster governance structure that also integrates the cultural heritage community.

In the emergency phase

In the emergency phase, depending on the level of destruction, the environment in which city managers and civil protection forces will have to intervene may be significantly disrupted and changed, posing many challenges to respond to immediate needs. This is a phase where mostly search and rescue activities and temporary sheltering has to be carried out, creating a rupture in everyday life and normal functioning of cities. Cities are also places where the probability of a chain of events is more likely, including ‘na-techs’ (technological accidents triggered by a natural disaster) given the interaction and the complexity of different systems including critical infrastructures and industrial areas.

Emergency management will be carried out more or less smoothly depending on the prior preparedness, on the existence and good quality of emergency plans and on the prior integration of the latter with urban and land use plans, for example for accommodating temporary camps and areas for the gathering of emergency means.

During the emergency phase important priorities for city and emergency managers can be summarized as: taking care of victims and guaranteeing that critical infrastructures keep function despite some level of damage. Even though immediate needs for life and health get the highest priority, people do care also about the preservation of those values and assets that represent their self-identity and in the meantime may constitute a reason for hope and “rising from the ashes” again.

In this respect, saving the cultural heritage that has survived complete destruction may be vital for the community. Activities for saving historic and vernacular buildings, groups of buildings, neighbourhoods and settlements cannot be postponed for long, beyond the emergency phase or some elements to be preserved will be ruined or even demolished in the chaos and fear typical of post-disaster situation.

Emergency intervention measures of technical and non-technical character should be taken promptly. Technical measures include for example shoring structures to safeguard their resistance capacity in case of earthquakes, and moving to safer places movable objects such as ancient books, paintings and sculptures. L’Aquila in Italy has experienced what may have been the largest shoring intervention ever after the 2009 earthquake. The failure to do so after the 2016 earthquake in Central Italy has meant dramatic failure of heritage that had been already weakened by prior shakes in the long sequence that has characterized that event. Moving valuable objects is possible if prior safe locations for their storage have been identified in emergency plans, as was the case for the Spoleto repository prepared in Umbria after the 1997 earthquake and used in the recent 2016 one. Non-technical measures refer to emergency planning concerning cultural heritage salvage, the deployment of special emergency response teams with clear roles and responsibilities for each member and equipped with safety equipment and appropriate material resources.

In the recovery phase

The recovery phase is perhaps the most critical for the destiny of a city after a disaster. It is the time when critical decisions are made regarding reconstruction, about strategies for the future, that may diverge from traditional paths even in a dramatic way. Also it is the time for collecting and analyzing damage data in order not only to estimate the needs in terms of finance and resources for rebuilding and restoring, but also for learning lessons and decide about intervention modalities that will reduce pre-event vulnerabilities, making cities more resilient.

Post-disaster damage assessment has gained much more attention recently than ever before, making it clear that d good level of understanding of what has been damaged and why is essential to support better decisions about priorities and modality of intervention. The experience gained in the Umbria Region after the two floods in 2012 and 2013 illustrate an approach to damage assessment that regards all sectors relevant in urban life and matches it with the description of the physical phenomena that has triggered the damage, that is attentive to the spatial and the temporal scales at which damage unfolds.

In the case of cultural heritage, specific damage assessments, documentation of the building and its condition (photos, drawings, reports etc.) need to be conducted, considering the differences between ordinary buildings and structures and ancient constructions.

In the reconstruction phase

Many point at the reconstruction phase as offering the largest window of opportunities for improving the pre-event situation, as after a disaster some restrictions in the use of land and more stringent building codes may be accepted more easily. It is a time when also relocation of some assets and lifelines can be decided to make future cities more resilient. However such windows close fast, certainly faster than the time needed for the overall reconstruction, and ineffective decision making and implementation may not exploit the opportunities offered by the event.

Reconstruction of cultural heritage require very strong competences of the building sector with specialized personnel and knowledge regarding ancient techniques and materials.