One of the smallest member cities of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities (100RCs) initiative is Vejle in Denmark. Predicted to be under water by 2100, it has plenty of incentives to tackle climate change, among other threats.
“A lot of people asked, why Vejle,” admits Jonas Kroustrup, who ultimately became the city’s Chief Resilience Officer under the 100RCs scheme. It has a population of around 60,000 (110,000 in the municipality) and so is far smaller than most of the cities chosen by the Rockefeller Foundation.
He believes that the honesty of the application was a reason for the selection. The city was open about the challenges and admitted that it had a lot to learn.
As well as risk from flooding, the city cited “a growing apathy and lack of social cohesion” and an expensive structure of government benefits. “As services are cut, the city is growing dependent on private initiatives to fill in the gaps. Officials are hoping to build community resilience, thus strengthening social capital where citizens act collectively and do their share in sustaining the welfare state, ensuring equal quality life standards for everyone.”
The city was selected in December 2013 within the first group of 32 cities for 100RCs and so has been at this longer than most, with its resilience plan (http://100resilientcities.org/strategies/vejle/) the first to be published in Europe, in March 2016.
Kroustrup served as CRO for two and a half years, moving from Smart City Aarhus, where he’d been a co-founder. As was always planned, he has now left the role but continues in the resilience sector in Denmark. The 100RCs funding and support is limited so one of the challenges of members has been to build resilience into their own strategies, ensuring there is a solid base for taking forward the work.
Having a dedicated CRO and appointing an outsider was useful, says Kroustrup. Some have incorporated the role into existing directorates but the Vejle model brought focus and the ability to provide a more critical voice. However, all work had to be institutionalised into the city council’s departments so that it would be embedded beyond the 100RCs timeframe.
Being a somewhat left-field selection for 100RCs aided citizen engagement – there was a pride and curiosity about being chosen – and a lot of work was done to ensure that the voices of the most vulnerable were heard, says Kroustrup.
There has also been emphasis on data, so that policies are built on evidence rather than myth. A lot of scenario-based work was done to try to find new approaches to the city’s problems from across public, private, educational and community group sectors.
Would the measures that are now being taken have happened anyway in Vejle without the 100RCs catalyst? At the least, the scheme accelerated into three years planning and actions that might have taken five to ten years, says Kroustrup.
It was also important for securing investments for things like flood protection and for focusing efforts in areas such as social cohesion. It provided an extra layer of “sense-making” to the council’s activities.
And it put Vejle in the spotlight – “everyone was really looking at us and we used the expectations in a positive way”.
There was also sharing of experiences and best practice with other international communities. 100RCs itself divided members into sub-groups based on perceived similar areas of interest but, in reality, speaking to Kroustrup and other CROs, it seems that the more natural allies were found by the member cities themselves over time. There was a strong network in Europe, he says, and he cites particularly good relations forged with Rotterdam, Bristol and Paris.
In total, Vejle identified 100 initiatives during the 100RCs process, with 41 of these to be delivered between 2016 and 2020. As part of ensuring the longevity of the initiative, the current status of the strategy, goals and actions are displayed on-line.
The four ‘strategic pillars’ are: A Co-creating city; a climate resilient city; a socially resilient city; and a smart city. Within these there are lots of categories, such as mobility, youth life, social housing, strengthening cohesion, preventative investments, advanced smart lighting, and digital inclusion and resilience, plus setting up laboratories in specific parts of the city for different solutions.
Some of the solutions are technology driven, such as planned smart digital parking, intelligent traffic management, an open data project, and energy pilots. Alongside Copenhagen, Aarhus, Aalborg and Odense, Vejle is now part of a network of Danish smart cities, ‘Smart City Five Pack’.
However, plenty of the actions do not rely on technology. For instance, The Stairway Ambassadors initiative, part of the social housing masterplan, involves residents of two neighbourhoods welcoming new residents and helping them to settle in their new homes to build inclusive communities.
Similarly, working with the KFUM’s (YMCA) social workspace, The Parasol, Vestergade, a street in Vejle, has been designated as a space for people with drug addictions to gather. This focuses on the welfare of the addicts and functions in an open and transparent way so that the local community of shops and residents are engaged and can offer support.
And in one of the city’s popular parks, a café has been set up, the Embassy Café, which is being operated, along with the adjacent ice rink, by people with learning difficulties.
An example of an employment-related, non-technical project is a three-year initiative by Jobcenter Vejle to work with companies to target groups of vulnerable citizens to include them in the labour market.