David Singleton

When it comes to city resilience, the “developed” world can often appear to patronise the “developing” world. Sometimes a “we know best” attitude has reared its head, causing division and tension. In recent years however – with rapid change in developing economies and with an increasing focus on resilience – I wonder if this attitude will be a thing of the past and if the developed world will open its eyes and ears to the exceptional work being done in developing economies.

Rewind the clock a few years and we often saw a “we know best” carbon emissions commentary, where the developed world “advised” the developing world to avoid dependence on coal for energy production, because it was going to make the carbon emissions problem worse.

It’s a bit like advice from one’s mother-in-law. I’m sure the developed world’s heart was in the right place, but it was understandable that there was backlash from the developing world who essentially didn’t think it fair that the developed world had the opportunity to develop their economies by using the cheapest sources of energy – for the most part, coal.

Needless to say there was quite a tense conversation in international climate negotiations around this issue and at COP 20 in Lima, Peru the developing world argued they needed to be given special dispensation with respect to emissions to allow them to get their economy up to a certain level.

While that backdrop continues to linger, times have changed rapidly in developing economies with huge middle class growth (in China and India), who have realised they need to embark upon a smarter approach to economic development and in particular energy generation.

In India, they are developing 100 smart cities via the Smart City Mission, an urban renewal and retrofitting program which either develops new cities (greenfield) or renders existing cities (brownfield) smart. It has allocated US$7.2 billion (AU$9.6b) for startup costs and seed money.

The Indian government realise they need to develop their urban centres, regenerate them and redirect them. They are going to do that by accessing the best technology they can afford rather than sticking to the “old way”.

At the recent smart communities and built environments conference in Singapore at which I presented, these stories were shared, amongst many more. I heard contributions from a number of speakers who spoke of significant levels of development in the resilience space in developing economies.

The key takeaway for me was the common thread of resilience … it is certainly high on the agenda and is something developing economies are increasingly paying attention to.

Vasudevan Suresh, the previous chairman of Indian Green Buildings Council, spoke about “Developing Integrated Smart and Green Built Environments: India’s Smart City Initiatives”. A very wise, articulate, considered man, he spoke about a number of the initiatives in India to develop sustainable urban developments. He also spoke about resilience.

He spoke of 100 smart cities initiative and also AMRUT (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation), which is a national priority project, to create infrastructure to provide basic services to households and build amenities. Over 500 cities will take part and it will improve the quality of life of all, especially the poor and the disadvantaged.

Dr Sujata Govada, who was born and raised in India, and now based in Hong Kong, covered city frameworks and planning, and the renewal of existing areas. She had in depth knowledge on urban development in Asian cities and what types of enablers are going to be important to move things in the right direction. A past president of the Hong Kong Institute of Architects, Dr Govada clearly articulated the framework of how to operate in order to achieve certain pieces of the resilience jigsaw.

These and many other speakers understood that you can’t do everything, but if you know what you can do, and if you know what best looks like, then you can do your best to achieve as much of that as is possible or affordable.

The more I hear and see the progress developing economies are making with regard to resilience, the more I believe there are things that developed economies should be observing, modifying slightly and applying in their own circumstances.

I think it is possible to envisage a future where two or three events might impact a developed economy and if that happens, that developed economy may find itself in a situation which isn’t far removed from some of the circumstances that Indian or Chinese cities find themselves in.

We should be learning more from each other, not telling each other what to do. We can work together to build a more resilient world for the future.

David Singleton is chair of the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia.

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