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Strengthening Europe's resilience backbone: 9 new cities join SMR at Thessaloniki launch event

13 November 2017

Representatives of 19 cities and municipalities met in Thessaloniki on 7th November for the Smart Mature Resilience project's Stakeholder Dialogue event. 9 cities became the newest members of the SMR project, joining the project’s 7 cities, which have been working with researchers for the last 2 years to develop tools to support cities in strategically developing their resilience. The cities to join the Tier 3 group were identified on the basis of experience and knowledge of resilience development. The event marked the launch of the project's third circle of cities aiming to build a backbone of resilient cities in Europe.

Four of the cities have developed this knowledge through membership of ICLEI: the Greater Amman Municipality (Jordan), Malmö (Sweden), Münster (Germany) and Rekjavik (Iceland), or participation in projects like the RESIN project (www.resin-cities.eu) in partnership with ICLEI, in the case of Greater Manchester (United Kingdom), or are part of other projects and international networks: Athens (Greece), Malaga (Spain), Stirling (United Kingdom) and Thessaloniki (Greece).

As a true dialogue, the new cities were active contributors to the event as well as receiving training from the project's Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities and research partners. Aphrodite Bouikidis, Resilient Thessaloniki, presented Thessaloniki's Resilience Strategy, presenting the city's general resilience goals: Shape a Thriving and Sustainable City, Co-create an Inclusive City, Build a Dynamic Urban Economy and Responsive City and Re-discover the City's Relationship with the Sea.

Giorgos Dimarelos, Deputy Mayor for Urban Resilience and Development Planning, shared Thessaloniki’s journey towards resilience amid intense challenges, including the financial crisis, the challenge of integrating refugees, and adverse weather effects from climate change. Steps by the city council have produced positive results in creating cooperative relationships with stakeholders, establishing a promising basis for achieving the city's goals, such as tackling unemployment and re-establishing a meaningful connection between the city and its coastline. The Deputy Mayor demonstrated how the city had successfully won support from the regional government to develop the coastline area in collaboration with neighbouring municipalities.

The cities of Kristiansand, Greater Manchester and San Sebastian are, like Thessaloniki, coastal cities, and each city shared their experience with working with critical infrastructure providers, first responders and citizens to deal with crisis situations caused by flooding, and to develop preparedness and resilience to flooding as part of the cities' daily work. Kristiansand and San Sebastian are applying the tools of the SMR project to conduct self-assessment and audit of the city's policies and current levels of investment in resilience, as well as considering the interdependencies of risk using the Risk Systemicity Questionnaire (RSQ). These cities are now serving as guides and peer trainers to their Tier 3 partner cities to pass on the knowledge they have developed through the SMR project.

The city of Amman, Jordan, shares challenges with some European cities, but at a scale unimaginable for its European peers. The population in the city has more than doubled in the last decade due to the war in neighbouring Syria, and the municipality has been working overtime to provide support to the new inhabitants and stretch the city’s infrastructure and housing to accommodate the unprecedented population pressures. Its ICLEI member peer, Malmö, has also introduced programmes in response to refugees seeking asylum from war, and the cities could compare challenges, risks and policies that have been implemented in both cities.

The event proceeded with training on the SMR City Dynamics Model. Cities were divided into groups and played the project's serious game to play in a simulation sandbox and experiment with the effects of different budget options. As budget experiments cannot be carried out in real life in cities, simulations provide a way for practitioners and decision-makers to try out different investment options in a safe environment. The game helps users to better understand the Resilience Maturity Model and to see through trial and error playing, the significant benefit of implementing policies in the order laid out in the Resilience Maturity Model.

The cities participated in a training session on the SMR Risk Systemicity Questionnaire (RSQ). The participants were divided into 5 groups, with a mix of city representatives in each group. Each group was facilitated by a Tier 1 or 2 city representative who had been involved in the development of the RSQ, with support from Strathclyde or an experienced user of the RSQ. Each group addressed different topics in the RSQ: Public Unrest; Elderly; Social Cohesion; Critical Infrastructure; Climate Change – air pollution.

There was a high level of debate and involvement about risk scenarios and potential strategies that could be implemented to prepare for interconnected risks. The groups were able to experience focused discussion on risk scenarios in cities facilitated by use of the RSQ. The Tier 3 cities were able to quickly understand how the tool worked and were able to use in in a trial run in practice. Some Tier 3 cities were already confident in their plans to run RSQ-based workshops locally.

Clara Grimes (ICLEI Europe) trained the cities on approaches for communicating best practices for resilience in cities based on narrative methods. Effectively communicating projects and policies in story form is essential so that citizens, stakeholders, other departments of the municipality and the media can better understand and connect with a city’s aims and progress. The cities of Stirling (UK), Malmö (Sweden), Glasgow (UK), Vejle (Denmark) and Rome (Italy) then applied these methods to tell the story of their local best practices to the cities and stakeholders present at the event, including community group activities in Stirling, crisis management in Malmö, resilience education in schools in Glasgow and a programme where a design school ‘designed’ ways for severely disabled people to make meaningful friendships beyond their professional relationships with their carers. Further resilience stories are available for reference in the SMR Policies Tool. Finally, researchers from the Center for Integrated Emergency Management presented on the SMR Resilience Information Portal and how cities can pick and choose code from this portal toolbox to supplement their resilience management information infrastructure.

The Tier 3 programme will continue with online training webinars and an in-person Stakeholder Workshop as part of the Breakfast at Sustainability's event series in Brussels on 7th March.

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 653569.