Bristol was in the first tranche of cities in the 100 Resilient Cities initiative and released its resilience strategy at the end of 2016. Chief resilience officer (CRO), Sarah Toy, discusses what’s gone well, what’s gone less well and how this sort of initiative fits into a city where there is already so much going on.
Sarah Toy admits that she was uncertain about applying for the CRO position in the first place. Among other roles, she had worked as senior sustainability manager at building design and engineering company, Arup, and as head of smarter choices at walking and cycling charity, Sustrans.
“I looked at the job description quite a few times and thought at first it wasn’t for me but it pulled together various strands of my areas of interest.” She joined Bristol City Council in February 2015 to take up the newly created position.
Part of the role has been to create a platform for conversations about resilience, both inside and outside the council. “While trying to be strategic, on a day-to-day basis, there was also the need to be pragmatic,” she says. Some parts of the council were easier to engage than others, with the efforts not helped by organisational restructuring.
The public health team were keen advocates so too the place directorate, which had an interest in future-proofing against climate change. Educational establishments, including the city’s universities, were also enthusiastic as were plenty of private companies and the voluntary sector.
Resident interaction was key. More than 1600 people were part of the citizen involvement efforts, which included meetings, presentations, pop-up tents and even a performance artist, to try to gauge opinions on what the future city should look like over the next 50 years.
Bristol has a well-earned reputation as an independent-thinking, culturally strong and thriving city, resulting in strong economic growth but with the challenges that arise from rapid expansion and pressure on existing infrastructure and services.
The ‘edgy’ side to Bristol, with its history of protest and alternative thinking (reflected in initiatives such as its own currency, the Bristol Pound), is a strength. Bristol is also recognised as a ‘green’ city, having been the first UK city to hold the title of European Green Capital, in 2015.
Again reflecting the city’s forward thinking, a new set of high-level city metrics is being defined for a fairer, happier and more sustainable city. This will help the city to move away from relying solely on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the headline measure of success. In a similar vein, a high level assessment of the financial value of green spaces across the city is under way to assist with future investment decisions.
Bristol was already involved in REPLICATE (REnaissance of Places with Innovative Citizenship And Technologies), a €25 million smart city EU-headed ‘Lighthouse’ project. This is focused on employing digital technology to explore the impact of integrating smart energy and smart transport interventions in the neighbourhood of Easton. It was also already in an EU Horizon 2020 Smart Mature Resilience project to develop a resilience maturity model and tools for city practitioners.
As CRO, Toy subsequently headed a successful bid to be part of the URBACT Resilient Europe network which aims to share experiences on resilience and sustainability across participants, with a particular focus on helping local communities to increase social cohesion and build local capacity.
Another EU project means Bristol is part of a consortium of universities and research institutions to actively engage European citizens in measuring their personal impact on air quality and CO2 emissions in their cities. The project will use innovative tools such as apps and games for smart phones to generate citizen-led policies to improve air-related health. The results are intended to influence overall city policies and, in Bristol, there is a focus on raising awareness about poor air quality and working with citizens to identify simple actions that can improve air quality in their streets.
The city also has the European Green Capital legacy to build on. As an example, a project called ‘Green and Black’ aims to kick-start a long-term series of activities and relationships with Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities. It will seek to develop young BAME ambassadors to raise environmental awareness in their communities and more broadly around the city. The programme will engage with ‘future city’ academics and act as a catalyst for additional projects.
Priorities, Projects and Plans
On top of all of this good stuff, out of 100RCs came Bristol’s Resilience Plan, which can be read here (http://www.100resilientcities.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Bristol_Strategy_PDF.compressed.pdf). It is wide-ranging and divided into five headings: fair, liveable, sustainable, agile and connected.
Anyone who knows Bristol’s geography will understand why flooding is an obvious priority. There was already plenty of work in this area ahead of 100RCs, looking at different forms of flood prevention, so the challenge was to make this “a bit more visionary and ambitious”.
This included learning from other flood-effected countries, such as the Netherlands, and cities, such as Hamburg. The German city has raised some of its buildings in the face of its vulnerability and there were lessons to be had from how it attracted large amounts of inward investment for this. Civil engineering company, Arcadis, which has a regional office in Bristol, was a useful partner for taking forward Bristol’s next steps, says Toy, with this feeding into the resilience plan.
More sweepingly, a climate change adaptation plan will identify risks and strategies to mitigate these, building resilience across the city.
From a social perspective, key issues are inequality and a life expectancy gap of around nine years, plus the ethnic mix which means the city embraces 187 countries of birth, 45 religions and 91 languages. An equality charter, which businesses and other institutions can sign up to, is being drawn up which is intended to build on the Bristol Manifesto to Race which was launched in 2015.
Bristol has made other bold commitments, including moving to zero carbon by 2050; zero waste within the next 50 years; extending the vote in the medium-term in local elections to 16 to 17 year-olds; and free bus travel in Bristol for under-16s on all journeys.
A ‘Legible City’ project has agreed funding to develop innovative city mapping and information resources to support change to more sustainable forms of transport and encourage active travel choices.
And the council’s open data goal is to unlock value for the council, citizens and businesses by sharing Bristol’s data to address city challenges, promote innovation and make the city more open and accountable. To do this, the council shares datasets on its open data platform.
The Mayor has also pledged to deliver 2000 new homes (800 affordable) per year by 2020 by setting up a local housing company. And there has been a proactive and high-profile response to rising levels of homelessness, with the Mayor’s challenge to create ‘100 beds in 100 days’ last winter.
Here is a prime area where the 100RCs work has sought to build on what has gone before, developing a “broader, more systemic view of homelessness than we would have done otherwise”, says Toy, looking at how to tackle some of the root causes.
Much has been achieved in Bristol outside of 100RCs but, ironically, the resilience of CROs themselves around the globe within the Rockefeller Foundation’s initiative is becoming a moot point as they reach the end of two years of funding and support. Another 100RCs member, Dakar in Senegal, released its resilience strategy a month or so after Bristol but its CRO is now no longer in place.
The good news is that Toy is assured of her position until July 2018. At that point the role will be brought into the council’s public health division, which leaves things somewhat up in the air at present.
In some ways, with so much already going on, it is difficult to be precise about what has been achieved as a result of the 100RCs affect. Toy points out that it is hard to measure aspects such as being a catalyst, bringing people together, providing leadership, raising awareness, and stimulating ideas.
100RCs has been about adopting fresh perspectives and sharing experiences with other cities. She cites good interaction with the likes of Rotterdam, New Orleans, Paris, Vejle in Denmark and some larger cities such as New York and Sydney. With other UK cities – Belfast, Glasgow, Greater Manchester and London – now in the network (cities have joined at different times, through three phases of intake) she sees the potential to build a strong UK network as well.
Toy hopes that the resilience structure will hold together as the post disappears and it is something that 100RCs needs to tackle. She feels it had a strong blueprint for the first phase but not nearly such a good grip on the implementation phase.
So what have been the tangible results in Bristol to date? Toy summaries: “It is hard to say what is directly attributable and what is not but over the two years we’ve built very good relationships, we’ve been a sounding board for resilience, and we’ve helped to build on a culture of collaboration…. There is a real level of skill and an expertise base now in the city”. Whether or not aided by a 100RCs Phase Two, and despite continued UK central government funding cuts, there looks to be no doubt that Bristol’s resilience efforts will continue.