How to Increase Place Resilience to Mitigate Climate Change Impacts and Strengthen Reputation

In my first blog in this series for The Place Brand Observer I set out my reasons for believing that the time had come for place brand strategists and their clients to recognise the importance of aligning their work on the brand of their place with the work of others on mitigation of the known and potential impacts of climate change on their place. In parallel I argued for place brand managers and strategists to get actively involved in what their client places were considering doing to mitigate those impacts as those actions will have a significant effect on place reputation and, if little or no mitigation is being planned, to alert their political decision makers to the risks of reputational damage this will cause for their place.

In this, my third blogpost, I share my thinking on how places, in particular towns, cities and urban conurbations, can increase the resilience of their placemaking in the face of the existing and potential challenges of climate change, actions those places should incorporate into, if not drive, their brand-led placemaking strategies and their offers to residents, workers, businesses, institutions, investors and visitors, offers that can help them build a reputation and an identity as places that take mitigation of climate change seriously. What follows draws on the findings of a number of studies in the USA and the UK published over the last 5 years and my own work with clients of Bloom Consulting.

While wildfires and drought in the western USA and in Australia can have a devastating effect on vegetation, crops, livelihoods, homes and urban fabric, climate change can also have serious impacts on more concentrated urban areas and seriously compromise the functioning and economic viability of places.

Local governments have many powers and statutory functions and responsibilities which can be harnessed to make places more resilient and sustainable in the face of climate change. Examples include making use of zoning, planning and building regulation powers to influence development proposals for new or adapted buildings. They can also prioritise retrofitting worn out housing stocks to ensure that they are “maximally” green and carbon neutral. And they can invest in electric powered vehicles for the provision of public transportation services, invest in upgrading storm water and flood control systems and limit or halt development on flood plains. Certainly, all such measures require substantial resources at a time of ongoing resource constraint but surely mitigation is preferable to the increasing costs of long term damage and destruction.

My own consultancy has been developing its thinking on the scope for resilient placemaking[1] over the next ten years through a fusion of placemaking and place branding, focussing in part on “antifragile” actions, a term coined by Nassim Taleb[2], which describes learning from events which have great destructive impact, learning from errors and from volatility, a primary examples of which, in my opinion, are the impacts of climate change on urban areas and urban development.

Local authorities in urban areas throughout the world can learn a lot from the work being undertaken by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) over the last ten years to stimulate urban municipalities and real estate developers thinking about mitigating the impacts of climate change. For example, its 2015 report on the returns from resilience[3] highlights that in the first 15 years of this century that real estate development has altered dramatically as a result of volatile events such as Hurricane Katrina, and Superstorm Sandy, which had devastating impacts in terms of lives lost and property damaged. It also noted that the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather, from drought and wildfires on the west coast of the USA to hurricanes and flooding on its east coast, have raised awareness of climate risks and have given rise to new thinking on “building for resilience”, an approach to urban development and placemaking that can enable places to survive such volatility. The ULI defines resilience as “the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, and more successfully adapt to adverse events.” This definition was also approved by organisations representing 750,000 industry professionals in the land use, planning, and development fields, including the American Institute of Architects, the American Planning Association, and the U.S. Green Building Council.

The report includes ten detailed case studies based on interviews with developers and property owners about their motivation to protect buildings and sites against climate-related threats, their resilience strategies, their design and development processes, and their projects’ performance.

A parallel report from the ULI on how developers and municipalities can assess climate change risk[4] concluded that today cities face unprecedented and uncertain risks from climate change and details a process for cities and property owners to assess that risk, better understand the type of hazards and events and assets most at risk so that they can better address issues of urban resilience for their places and built environment.

The report also concludes that risk assessment is particularly relevant for cities because, as recent years have demonstrated, they are increasingly vulnerable to severe events, for example of flooding in coastal areas and in steep river valleys and from bush fires in forested areas with increasingly hot climates. Risk assessments, properly conducted and seriously considered, can help cities and property owners identify which types of events are most likely and which assets and communities most need support and resilience action planning. This process consists of six core stages which are explained in detail in the report:

  1. Identify and define the most relevant types of hazards the place faces
  2. Define potential event scenarios
  3. Identify affected assets
  4. Assess the potential scale and nature of the damage to those assets
  5. Calculate the annual risk exposure of the place
  6. Calculate the cumulative risk exposure over time

The report concludes that the best way to respond to this set of challenges is for municipal leaders really understand the scale, frequency and nature of the risks their place and their community faces. This will enable them to identify the scale and nature of the resources they will required to invest in building resilience to mitigate harmful impacts from climate change.

Now is the time for place brand strategists to ask their client places or colleagues working in their place about their appreciation of the hazards their place is facing from climate change and the extent of the action they are planning in response. To fail to do so can and will harm their credibility and the product of their strategies.

In the UK the Royal Institute of British Architects has been active in exploring the role of architects in making urban settlements more resilient and has published on its web site[5] a number of reports and blog posts sharing ideas and initiatives to galvanise collective climate change action. One in particular explores strategies for galvanising climate action in local authorities of relevance to placemakers[6], poses and addresses the question – how can local authorities make the pivot towards engaged and purposeful climate action and what processes must be put in place to enable them to create sustainable places together with communities?

A number of key action points from recent experience emerged from their research and case studies:

  • Facilitate and make use of people with existing relevant expertise and invest in human resources to build capacity to plan for mitigation of known and potential risks
  • Plan for low carbon development through deployment of relevant expertise to influence, at early stages, development and adaptation proposals
  • Develop and implement systems for carbon accounting for development and delivery of services
  • Develop proactive adaptation tactics to address known climate risks – e.g. flooding, drought and overheating

These are important suggestions that are of relevance to any local authority or municipality anywhere in the world and for place brand strategists to take note of when telling the story of their place.

Also in the UK, the Royal Town Planning Institute has published a guide for local authorities on planning for climate change[7]. Among its principal observations and guidelines are that:

  • Climate mitigation and adaptation are central principles of plan-making, and therefore of placemaking
  • Local plan policies need to secure important outcomes including robust assessment of the potential for local policies to achieve local emissions reduction
  • The planning system should help to shape places that contribute to radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions
  • Local plans should take a proactive approach to mitigating and adapting to climate change
  • Addressing climate change is a core land use planning principle to underpin plan-making and decision-taking; in other words it is not optional.

Again, this is advice that could be adopted by place-makers and planning authorities across the globe.

With a global perspective, another report with useful insights for place-makers on the concept of resilience as applied to urban areas is the UN publication “Trends in Urban Resilience 2017”[8]. This is an insightful review of methodologies, approaches, and progress illustrated on achieving increased urban resilience containing an overview of communities of practice delivering support to cities around the world to achieve their goals of inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable human settlements.

Two major conclusions of relevance to placemakers can be drawn from this report:

  • As the world becomes increasingly urban, factors like inadequate planning in the face of natural catastrophes or man-made stresses put cities under severe strain if not sufficiently anticipated and, can cause destruction of infrastructure and sudden disruptions in services while intensifying latent socioeconomic vulnerabilities.
  • Decades of experience in disaster risk reduction and emergency management have led to an understanding that the protection of people and assets must go beyond the traditional approach to risk reduction. It needs to embrace forward-looking development planning, and the need for placemakers to shift operations – in pre- and post-crisis situations – from reducing a city’s exposure to strengthening its capacity for resilience by combining emergency interventions, like responses to climate change driven flooding and forest fires with longer-planned and more integrated sustainable urban development.

Examples of Cities Practicing Resilient Placemaking for Climate Impact Mitigation

Examples of places, cities and towns, that are undertaking sustainable placemaking in a way that increases their resilience to and mitigates the impacts of climate change include Bristol in the UK[9],  Copenhagen in Denmark[10], Exeter in the UK[11], Lodz in Poland[12], Medellin in Columbia and New York City[13].

Of particular note and relevance to the creation of resilient placemaking are the initiatives of the City of Copenhagen. Copenhagen is a good example of a city that is simultaneously planning to reduce carbon emissions, increase sustainability and make the city more resilient to the impacts of climate change. Following the CPH 2025 Climate Plan, the city aims to be the world’s first carbon-neutral capital city by 2025 and, in parallel, is also creating an entire neighbourhood that is climate resilient – Osterbro.[14].

Call to Action

These cities and others like them which recognise the need to actively plan action to increase place-resilience to mitigate the impacts of climate change on urban settlements, now need to take action to incorporate this important element of place-making in their place brand strategies.

If your place is recognising the nature and scale of its hazard risks and responding to them with action to increase its resilience, not just with words, then that deserves and needs to be incorporated into its “Story of Place”.

If little or no action is being planned or taken to increase resilience to mitigate the impacts of climate change, you need to ask why not and point to the potential reputational damage for the place.

Either way you and colleagues should avail yourself of the knowledge on how to do so, available in the “City Resilience Index”[15] and the publications listed below.


Further Reading:

“Adapting Buildings and Cities for Climate Change” – Crichton, Nicol and Roaf, Routledge, 2009

“100 Resilient Cities” www.cityresilienceindex.org

“Cities Leading Climate Action”, Dekker, Routledge, 2019

“Climate Change in Cities: Innovations in Multi-Level Governance” – Hughes, Chu and mason, Springer, 2018

“Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange” – A researchable data base of case studies, local government adaptation plans and resilience tools for a broad range of geographies and risks, accessible at www.cakex.org

[1] “Key elements to successful placemaking in the new decade” – https://www.bloom-consulting.com/journal/key-elements-to-successful-placemaking-in-the-new=decade/

[2] “Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder”, Random House and Penguin, 2012

[3] “Returns on Resilience – The Business Case”, The Urban Land Institute Centre for Sustainability, 2015

[4] “A Guide for Assessing Climate Change. Risk”, ULI, Washington USA,2015

[5] www.architecture.com

[6] “Galvanising collective climate action”, Ciara Hanson and Laetitia Pancrazi of the “Climate Response Working Group”, 25.11.2020

[7] “Rising to the Climate Crisis”, RTPI, London, UK, 17 September 2019

[8] “Trends in Urban Resilience”, United Nations Human Settlement Programme, 2017.

[9] Bristol “One City Climate Strategy, released on 26 February 2020 – www.bristolonecity.com/wp-content

[10] The CPH 2025 Climate Plan – www.urbandevelopmentcph.kk.dk

[11] “Towards a Carbon Neutral Exeter, 04.06.2019 www.exetercityfutures.com

[12] “Lodz – Towards a resilient city’, Cities, Elsevier, Volume 107, December 2020

[13] “Notes from the Resilient City”, Rockefeller Foundation, 2014

[14] Klimarkvarter – Copenhagen’s first Climate Resilient Neighbourhood – www.klimakvarter.dk

[15] “The City Resilience Index”, ARUP and the Rockefeller Foundation, 2018 www.cityresilienceindex.org


A contribution by Malcolm Allan of Bloom Consulting. More about Malcolm in our interview.

If you would like to hear more about Malcolm’s thinking on the climate emergency and its implications for place branding, listen to our recent podcast conversation with him or check out his previous posts on the topic.

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Malcolm Allan is the President of Bloom Consulting, a country region and city brand strategy consultancy which he joined in 2018 when he merged his own consultancy, Placematters with it. Malcolm has worked in the UK for both central and local governments and as a private consultant.
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Malcolm Allan

Malcolm Allan is the President of Bloom Consulting, a country region and city brand strategy consultancy which he joined in 2018 when he merged his own consultancy, Placematters with it. Malcolm has worked in the UK for both central and local governments and as a private consultant.