Engineering diversity in infrastructure design key to city resilience

Engineering diversity in infrastructure design is key to making cities resilient, says Rod MacDonald, chairman of Civic Patterns.

Engineering has an obvious, and direct, impact on city resilience, through the planning, design, construction, and operation of buildings and infrastructure.

Structures in vulnerable regions are designed to withstand natural disasters such as earthquakes; flood protection and alleviation schemes prevent widespread damage from extreme weather; energy supply utilities and data systems are built continue to operate when a part of the network is knocked out and the resilience of transport infrastructure has a direct impact on a city’s economic health.

Engineering ‘diversity’ in the ‘flow paths’ (be they of forces, data, energy or vehicle movements), together with collaboration between operators, is key to delivering resilience. Diversity is a fundamental design approach that allows systems to continue to function when one or more elements fail.

This may mean enabling passengers and freight to switch easily to another mode of transport or route; that there are back-up communication systems in times of terrorist attack and that adequate energy or water reserves exist to maintain supply if the source is disrupted.

As well as being resilient to the unexpected events such as natural disaster, terrorism and war, infrastructure must also be designed to have ‘day-to-day’ resilience, in other words, have the capacity and flexibility to cope with predicted increases in demand, expected failures and planned maintenance.

Both types of resilience require consideration of not only the physical infrastructure but also other economic, social and political factors.

In the energy sector, for example, resilience goes beyond the physical infrastructure and must also consider the energy source and reserves. So, while immediate concerns may be over a lack of an adequate distribution network, or an ageing one that can no longer cope with demand, a potentially larger issue (and one that will require significant engineering input) is where the fuel used to generate the energy comes from and what happens if that supply is cut.

This is particularly important when dealing with overseas sources: a lack of influence over the politics or economy of the country supplying the energy means the system cannot not be considered resilient, however good the national infrastructure.

Good planning of projects (including the planning and implementation of temporary works during construction) is another way engineers improve resilience. London’s Crossrail project, for example, has been planned to have minimum impact on Londoners’ lives during construction, enabling economic and social resilience.

Engineers’ expertise in developing rigorous models, analysing data and delivering solutions means they are ideally placed to plan, design and build infrastructure that can withstand unexpected shocks to the system.

Engineering participation in the collaboration between the parts of city government, utility and transport operators, police and intelligence services, as evidenced during the 2012 Olympics, enables cities to be resilient in all aspects: be they physical, economic, social or political.

Designing City Resilience will be held on 16 and 17 June 2015, 66 Portland Place, London. For more information and to book a place at the event, visit Visit the Facebook page and follow the summit on Twitter: @rescities; connect via LinkedIn; or see the Youtube channel.

Participating cities include:

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona has a history of energy and transport-related infrastructure failure, as well significant pollution. More recently, Spain’s financial problems have meant the city has experienced high levels of unemployment which have sparked a break-down in traditional family structures, affecting social cohesion. Manuel Valdes Lopez, Manager of Infrastructures and Urban Coordination, will discuss the city’s plans to address these challenges.

Bristol, UK

Bristol is experiencing rapid growth and is investing significantly in renewing its infrastructure to meet the needs of its expanding population. Plans for more decentralised governance structures are being put in place, with the aim of empowering citizens to minimise risk and becoming increasingly resource efficient in the long-term. Sarah Toy, Bristol’s Chief Resilience Officer (CRO), will share what the city is investing in, how it is doing it and the value that it aims to unlock. She will be joined by Bristol’s Mayor, George Ferguson, who will outline the city’s plans for a more decentralised governance structure, with the aim of empowering citizens.

Chennai, India

South India’s coastal city of Chennai is currently the fourth most populous metropolitan area in the world. The city suffered damage from a Tsunami in 2004, is prone to flooding and lacks the infrastructure to meet the needs of its growing population. Chennai will present its plans to minimise future risk and how the city is using public private partnerships (PPPs) to achieve these aims.

Glasgow, UK

Glasgow has come a long way in building resilience since its days of heavy industry but continues to grapple with high levels of unemployment and a severe lack of social cohesion. The city’s CRO Alastair Brown will talk about the plans being put in place to tackle these challenges and create future opportunities.

Melbourne, Australia

Melbourne is affected by severe weather events and its future is likely to be impacted significantly by climate change. Complex governance structures and fragmented infrastructure management present barriers to building resilience. Toby Kent, Melbourne’s CRO, will discuss how the city is adapting and adopting a more coordinated approach to city management and resilience.

New York City, USA

New York City (NYC) constantly battles resilience on two fronts: fighting the stresses that large successful cities face daily and ensuring it is prepared for shocks that, as Hurricane Sandy proved in 2012, are all too prevalent.

NYC published its plan for implementing sustainability and resilience initiatives in April 2015. One New York: The plan for a strong and just city, includes plans to have the cleanest air in 50 years; to plant 950,000 trees and install 6 million square feet of reflective rooftops; to upgrade building codes to prepare for floods, wind and extreme weather; and to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, compared with 2005.

The aim is to ensure policies are in place to promote a better quality of life for New York’s citizens, support economic success and tackle social inequality, while also mitigating the risks of climate change.

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