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Greater urban resilience: we need a cure

Too often in Manchester, the same faces appear again and again at meetings and seminars focused on environmental action. So it was gratifying to see many unfamiliar faces at the re-launch of the University of Manchester institute, the Centre for Urban Resilience and Energy (CURE).  Then again, maybe the lack of familiarity was worrying since the academic world in Manchester often feels disconnected from the city’s practitioners - two spheres both focused on climate change, environmental degradation and development of radical solutions, yet not necessarily discussing them with each other.  Let’s hope that the familiar faces from the city will pursue a more integrated approach with CURE, as the institute provides important insight into how cities can progress with environmental initiatives.

The launch was celebrated with a keynote lecture on 'Energy Transitions' by the highly respected Professor Harriet Bulkeley from the University of Durham.  She observed that 20 years of campaigning around climate change, dating from the first Earth Summit in Rio  had not achieved enough change to mitigate the effects of CO2.  The gloomy message of impending doom had limited value and instead a focus on transition was a better direction with greater ‘resonance’.

Cities are at the right administrative level to take real action.

While nation states seem tangled in political knots, cities are taking proactive steps to develop transition plans using ‘imaginaries of futures’ that envisage low carbon environmentally sound cities.  Green ‘infrastructure’ is the latest buzz word, which incorporates issues around energy security, costs, renewables, new economies and strategic advantages.  Cities are at the right administrative level to take real action – big enough to spread costs, small enough to be achievable on limited budgets and have existing relationships with people in their communities and the organisations that service their city.

During the Q&A, a critical issue emerged.  With environmental degradation, we already know what the problems are and we know what we need to do to fix them.  The problem is that ‘zones of exception are created to allow things to carry on as normal’.  Cities can and are providing solutions but these solutions do not necessarily scale easily up to national or global levels.  Focused work needs to go into all levels to bring about the change necessary.  Another area to consider is where greenhouse gases come from and directly target them.

A promising start to the renewed CURE and a gracious nod to the decade of work already done to raise awareness and develop strategies for transition to sustainability in cities.  There is much yet to be done.