The Veolia Institute "Resilient Cities" Conference: how cities adapt to risks

The Veolia Institute organized a conference-debate on "Resilient Cities" on Tuesday, 18 December, on the occasion of the publication of its journal on the same theme.
Conférence Institut Veolia villes résilientes (50756)

Jean-Christophe Levassor, director of La Condition Publique, Guillaume Josse, urban planner in the Huit group and Wexity, Eric Lesueur, president of 2EI Veolia and David Ménascé, director of the Azao firm and an HEC professor, explored the main risks cities are now facing and the way they are preparing to deal with them.


As 70% of the world's population will be living in urban areas by 2050, cities today face major risks: climate change, natural disasters, health crises, loss of attractiveness, industrial decline, unemployment, etc. Against this background their resilience - "the ability to recover from shocks and continue to develop" - is a central issue in urban policies.

It's no longer a matter of predicting the unexpected, but of preparing for it

Nicolas Renard, Director of Foresight at the Veolia Instituteopened the conference by talking about how population density and human exchanges increase cities’ vulnerability. Urban areas have a concentration of unpredictable shocks, natural or technological disasters and chronic stresses that weaken their social and economic fabric.

"Cities are rediscovering their vulnerability and should be guaranteeing their inhabitants’ safety - especially the poorest people who are more vulnerable to disasters and less resilient to their impacts - and protecting their economic, social, environmental and cultural heritage. The question for cities is no longer about predicting the unpredictable but about preparing for it, which means becoming more resilient."

Include all stakeholders, strengthen cohesion and build partnerships

Three speakers presented their contributions, in various contexts, to improving the resilience of cities.

For Jean-Christophe Levassor: "In Roubaix, which has been hit hard by the economic crisis, the research unit La Condition Publique - a European Metropolis of Lille public institution - hosts a creative and social innovation community that brings together citizens in all their diversity. Halfway between a museum, home to associations and a re-socialization space, it recreates the links between local stakeholders. This innovative policy supports urban renewal and increases the area’s resilience."
Guillaume Josse, an urban planner from the Huit group and Wexity, outlined how cities in emerging countries are putting more socially resilient solutions in place. In these cities, which lack infrastructure, maintenance and resources - including access to finance – resilience comes primarily through their citizens who have to cope with various shocks and stresses. "In Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo), which attracts 500,000 new inhabitants each year, or in Lagos (Nigeria) with its 20 million inhabitants, it is the means of finance that are most lacking in building urban resilience. On the other hand in Kenya the “Build a Bridge” initiative brings together public policy and citizen-led action."
Eric Lesueur presented Veolia's resilience solutions: "In its role of services manager with long-term experience in its three areas of activity and resource-saving solutions, Veolia support cities’ resilience. The Group partners the 100RC initiative which identifies the resilience challenges in 100 cities around the world... To illustrate: Veolia develops sustainable management solutions such as urban agriculture which produces not only locally but also in an inclusive way: for example in Lille in a disadvantaged neighbourhood with the Sodexo Group. Resilience is also strengthened by greater cohesion between all the city’s stakeholders: Veolia has created around twenty incubators that support entrepreneurs working in the social and solidarity economy."

As David Menascé pointed out, "urban resilience" has four basic components: a strategic framework of action, a clearly defined repair process, a viable economic model to finance the solutions and a public mind-set that supports initiatives.

Published at the conference, the Veolia Institute's journal brings together analyses and examples focusing on three themes:

  • Increasing resilience impacts cities’ development

In sub-Saharan African cities, urban resilience extends not only to risks (technological, terrorist, food), but also to chronic stresses (aging, erosion of social links as a result of rapidly increasing urbanization, etc.), and is accompanied by a community risk management approach. In developed countries cities that are shrinking in economic and demographic terms, such as Detroit, are rethinking their governance to create more resilience. In Europe, better coordination of refugee populations as soon as they arrive by providing access to housing and citizen participation increases the resilience of host cities, as demonstrated in Hamburg .


  • Increasing resilience through various innovative strategies

More environmentally responsible, "green cities" are more attractive and more resilient as they rely on a dynamic economy and a green and inclusive urban environment. Resilient urban planning favours smaller projects based on "small flows" where distances are shorter and there is less mobility. On the basis of citizen initiatives, cultural adaptation of the population to the risks allows them to react more effectively to natural disasters. For example, in a crisis (natural disaster, terrorist attack, etc.), Facebook groups mean citizens can organize themselves in order to optimize rescue operations and make resilience more collaborative.

  • Increasing resilience is an opportunity for cities

Launched in 2013, the Rockefeller Foundation 100 Resilient Cities initiative, provides financial support and access to a network of resources and partners. It has already created 90 "Resilience Director" positions and developed 40 urban resilience strategies. New tools like Resilience Bonds are used to finance both risk reduction upstream and post-disaster actions.

This conference follows the Resilient Territories seminar organized in 2017 by La Fabrique de la Cité and the Veolia Institute, at the Cultural Centre in Cerisy-la-Salle.