17. 03. 2017


BY ARES GABÀS, Barcelona City Council

Since 2007 Barcelona has undergone a process to incorporate resilience in the agenda of the city. This was the response -as it has been the case in other cities- of a series of critical episodes that impacted the city within a very short period of time comprised between 2006 and 2007.

As a matter of fact, we can consider that cities have always had a resilient capacity; otherwise they wouldn’t have endured until today. Through history, cities have had the skills to adapt and regenerate, finding solutions to the problems challenging them, evolving to incorporate new services to address changing needs, managing to thrive and continue to be spaces of opportunity and increasingly attracting population as a global demographical trend.

In the case of Barcelona, there was a first phase, until 2008, when we suffered from recurrent problems related with heavy rains -causing flooding, that also lead to failure of key transport infrastructures being origin of serious disruptions in the mobility system- combined with drought periods threatening the guarantee of water supply, and even a structural collapse in the public space, due to the works of extension of the metro line. The response at the time was in form of sectorial actions, such as the construction of rainwater retention tanks, that significantly reduced flooding issues, or contingency plans to establish response proceedings to plausible and recurrent critical situations.

A second phase started in 2007, when a series of critical episodes causing serious systemic failures raised an awareness of vulnerability. That meant a turning point in the approach to city management and planning procedures towards a more proactive and cross-sectorial model. This materialized with the creation, in 2009, of the resilience boards for the implementation of risk reduction projects.

Since then, this methodology has evolved into a wider, more integrative, program that includes not only technological risks related to infrastructures and services, but also societal and environmental challenges. Parallel to this process, urban resilience has increasingly become a structural working stream in Barcelona City Council. Consequently and with the mandate of leading the city strategy and projects in this field, an Urban Resilience Department was created in 2014.

The current urban resilience model rests on three pillars corresponding to the three stages that make up the continuous improvement cycle for creating resilience: risk management, through the urban space operations centre and coordination with the other control centers in the city; risk analysis, using the information management and resilience analysis platform; and risk reduction, through the resilience boards.

In this set up, the process begins with coordinated management of any incidents or emergency situations by the different municipal centers. The second stage is implemented through information management and resilience analysis using the municipal platform, based on an open source and standards model, which brings the information and support tools together to analyze the city’s problems. The purpose of the urban resilience information and analysis platform is to provide a comprehensive overview of how the city is running by bringing together all the information considered critical or relevant from the different systems comprising it. Managing the city is a complex task due to the multiple operators involved and because, despite the obvious interdependencies between the different urban systems, they often manage their information separately. This platform opens up a new possibility of managing and sharing information with all the agencies involved and enables the joint analysis of data which, up to now, was impossible to correlate, thereby providing new information to support decision-making processes both at a strategic and operational level. Lastly, we have the resilience boards, which through the implementation projects to reduce any vulnerabilities detected, lessen the seriousness of any incidents and the likelihood of them happening again, and improve the city’s capacity to respond when faced with exceptional or emergency situations.

While work is being carried out on an operational level to implement direct action to prevent or reduce the city’s vulnerabilities, at a strategic level, Barcelona’s Resilience and Adaptation Plan, currently under development, will be the reference framework and road map for the deployment of the main lines of action and proactive resilience measures for the short, mid and long term.

For this purpose we’re working to improve the knowledge on how impacts derived from climate change are going to affect us at a local scale and identifying adaptation measures we need to implement in order to minimize their impact. RESCCUE project offers a great opportunity to deepen on this knowledge and for collaboration with cutting edge institutions that can help us develop innovative tools and models, aimed at improving the knowledge on how climate impacts affect us with a musltisistemic approach, evaluating interdependencies and possible cascading effects.