Urban Resilience: Cities in a Post-COVID World - From Crisis and Recovery to Reinvention and Resilience

Course background

The world continues to urbanize. In the 100 years starting 1913, the proportion of the world’s population that lives in cities grew 5-fold from 10% to 50%, and estimates suggest that 75% of the world’s population will live in cities in 2050. Though history reveals that it has always been an accelerator of growth and development, urbanization poses profound challenges. Indeed, while cities are where the majority of the world’s population live, work and play, generating more than three-fourths of the world’s GDP, they are also at the frontlines of many disasters and risks. As the World Bank notes, “… recent examples show how economic crises, health epidemics, and uncontrolled urbanization can also affect the ability of a city to sustain growth and provide services for its citizens – underscoring the need for a new approach to resilient urban development.”

COVID-19 is offering the world a particularly stark reminder that a focus on long-term resilience is crucial for citizens, communities, corporations, cities and countries. At a fundamental level, this crisis has driven societies, urban and rural, to greater isolation. Several intersecting lines of thought have surfaced from this forced isolation, three of which frame this course. First are questions about the very reason cities exist – agglomeration of talent, exchanges and spaces that underpin creativity, innovation, prosperity and vibrancy of societies. Second is the growing recognition that the crisis is presenting us an opportunity to not just recover and move back to how things were; rather, that this may be a time to reimagine and reinvent individual and collective engagement within the complex system of systems that cities are. Third is the striking manner in which the crisis has laid bare deep- rooted and increasingly widening urban social, environmental and economic divides and disparities.

As we emerge from the long shadow of this crisis, it is increasingly apparent that resilience, reinvention and the bridging of urban divides require greater multilateralism, inclusion and collaboration from which globally-informed and locally-relevant solutions may surface. The need for inclusive approaches is perhaps the greatest for informal settlements and slums that house the world’s most vulnerable people. Though informal settlements evidence an amazing capacity to self- organize and fashion innovative low-cost solutions, COVID-19 has vividly surfaced the need to mobilize innovative models of global partnerships, and develop holistic strategies to find solutions to the very challenges that underpin the vulnerability of informal settlements.

This course is a collaborative offering across the schools in the Collaborative for Urban Resilience and Effectiveness (CURE) and the Global Network for Advanced Management. It brings together faculty from schools across these networks, World Resources Institute (WRI), Rockefeller Foundation’s Global Resilient Cities Network (GRCN), and Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI), as well as practitioners from business, government, and civil society to engage with the topic of urban resilience. This is fifth year that this course is being offered for students in GNAM.

Course purpose

Despite the global nature of the challenge, cities across the globe evidence great complexity and differences. Local, national, and regional context matters, and the resilience-building effort will require leaders who understand how markets and organizations work in diverse and complex contexts, and who can move supplely from a global perspective to specific local understanding. Leaders will also need to be able to call on expertise and resources from all parts of the globe and all sectors of society, and not assume that any one organization or perspective has the final answer.

By partnering across universities, and with organizations like WRI, GRCN, and SDI, this GNAM Small Network Online Course (SNOC) represents an important step in a global collaborative learning pathway for students to help prepare them for complex leadership contexts. These are contexts that are characterized by messy and ‘wicked’ problems, the involvement of multiple stakeholders (across business, government and civil society), each with different motivations and constraints, low decision-making authority, and the potential for high conflict across stakeholders in approach, strategic decision-making, and implementation.

For the purposes of this course, we draw on the view of urban resilience articulated by Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) initiative as the ability of individuals, communities, businesses, institutions, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow in response to acute shocks and chronic stresses they may experience. Shocks and stresses can bring opportunities for cities to evolve and in some circumstances transform.

The purposes of this course are to help students across the Global Network for Advanced Management:

  • Articulate resilience challenges and opportunities facing global cities in the post-COVID19 world, with a focus on informal settlements
  • Describe the holistic and integrated nature of resiliency and its key drivers in bridging urban divides
  • Work in remote and borderless teams to design collaborative approaches involving business, government and civil society to address urban resilience challenges

Course participants

This course is primarily geared towards graduate-level students in business with no prior background in urban resilience. Given the broad nature of the topic, however, and to facilitate the integration of business with concepts from environmental studies, journalism, urban design and architecture, land and food systems, and public policy, students from these related areas are also being encouraged to take the course.

The course will be capped at 40 students. If more than 40 studies are interested in taking the course, preference will be given first to students in the final year of their program and second to those with relevant experience in these topics. It is anticipated that we will have up to 8 teams of students, with each team having students from diverse fields of study across multiple locations.

Course partners

Academic partners

As in past offerings of the SNOC, the Fall 2020 SNOC will draw on faculty expertise (as guest speakers and/or project supervisors) from several universities around the world. These include UBC-Sauder, Yale, Indian Institute of Management-Bangalore, Tec de Monterrey, University of California-Berkeley, University of Cambridge, Sciences Po, University College London, Indian Institute of Technology-Madras, University of Ghana, and Osaka University.

Non-academic partners

The key non-academic partners in the course are WRI, GRCN, and SDI.

  • World Resources Institute (WRI) -- https://www.wri.org/. WRI is a global research organization that spans more than 60 countries, with offices in the US, China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and more. Their more than 1,000 experts and staff work closely with leaders to turn big ideas into action to sustain natural resources—the foundation of economic opportunity and human well-being. The work focuses on seven critical issues at the intersection of environment and development: climate, energy, food, forests, water, cities and the ocean.
  • Global Resilient Cities Network -- https://www.rockpa.org/project/global-resilient-cities- network/. The new Global Resilient Cities Network (GRCN) emerges from the 100 Resilient Cities Program with a unique reach, strength and legacy to understand and support the challenges of the ever-growing urban society. GRCN is the city-led organization that will drive urban resilience action to protect vulnerable communities from climate change and other physical, social and economic urban adversities and challenges. With support from The Rockefeller Foundation and other funding partners, the Network aims to continue supporting cities and their Chief Resilience Officers in future-proofing their communities and critical infrastructure.
  • Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI) -- https://skoll.org/organization/slum-dwellers- international/. SDI is a network of community-based organizations of the urban poor in 33 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. It was launched in 1996 when federations of the urban poor in countries such as India and South Africa agreed that a global platform could help their local initiatives develop alternatives to evictions while also influencing the global agenda for urban development. In each country where federations operate, they mobilize around core SDI practices and principles to build a voice and collective capacity in urban poor communities. This is SDI’s Know Your Community work. Organized federations throughout the SDI network profile, map, and enumerate their settlements to gather invaluable planning data and catalyze community action and partnerships. SDI’s Know Your City website combines hard data and rich stories from urban poor communities in 224 cities across the Global South. Federations use their data and collective capacity to co-produce solutions for slum upgrading. These projects make up the third category of SDI’s work—Improve Your City.

Course Date & Time

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 5:30 - 7:00 a.m. (PST, Vancouver time); no class during Global Network Week (Oct 19 - 23); please note clocks change on November 1 (one hour back) in North America, so the course will happen one hour later if you are in another timezone.