A new report from the 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) program, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, suggests that Sydney has been “lucky” to get this far without a serious disaster and that it needs to protect itself better.
The report, released on Tuesday, detailed a series of shocks and stresses that could easily befall the city, a number of which it may currently be unable to combat.
The aim of the 100RC initiative is to help big cities understand potential pitfalls and develop a series of strategies to counteract them.
Sydney is not the first Australian city to sign up to 100RC, with Melbourne already beginning the process two years ago. The latter now finds itself in a better position overall.
Beck Dawson, the Chief Resilience Officer for Sydney, said that resilience is termed as “how we adapt, thrive and survive from shocks and stresses” and classed shocks as immediate severe disruptions such as those stemming from a flood or a terror incident. A stress is a “slow, long-burning issue” – something that can eventually become a disaster or help amplify existing and underlying problems.
Dawson went on to warn that there are two potential problems facing Sydney that could compound any of these issues. One is the current fragmented government, as there is no leading council at present, and the other is the perceived complacency resulting from no recent disasters affecting the mindset of policymakers in the city.
Although there have been very real shocks to contend with in the last three decades, none of these were on the same scale as the terrorist attacks in Paris or London or earthquakes in Christchurch.
Patricia Forsythe, the Executive Director of the Sydney Business Chamber, mentioned that Sydney’s luck means that it has “never been tested in terms of natural disasters or other issues that face other cities”. She added that it is so important to protect against a shock that would severely affect the city to the point “when businesses can’t open, when people don’t have jobs, when they are disrupted”. This would have the knock-on effect of a chain reaction that would, in turn, affect many others.
Chronic stresses highlighted in the report include a growing population needing to access health services, stretched housing, a lack of diversity in employment and financial inequity, among other issues.
The report also considered the kinds of acute shocks that could immediately cause crises. Extreme weather came at the top of this list, which may not be a surprise given the levels of drought that are currently gripping parts of Australia as the world finds itself in the middle of a global heatwave.
The biggest threats are wildfires, heatwaves and major storms, as 18 of the 30 shocks to hit the city in the last three decades were all weather-related. Measures to combat this include the design and implementation of so-termed “cooling suburbs”, which involves using reflective materials on roads to stop heat storage and using trees as a canopy for shade in more roadside areas.
Other risks detailed in the report include the failure of major financial institutions, which could result from a global financial crisis, and aging infrastructure.
Dawson concluded that her job and the need for a resilient strategy has to center around three main issues: “What will stop this city, who will bear the risks and what will the cost be when it goes wrong?”