Effective urban resilience ‘starts at local government level’

Local political leadership is an important catalyst for incorporating resilience and adaptation into urban planning, a new university study has revealed.

Comparing the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast – two coastal cities highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, with similar socioeconomic and policy contexts – Griffith University researchers said the former lacked the resilience of its northern counterpart.

This was because of different approaches to adaptation planning, their report suggested.

“Historically, Gold Coast’s response to coastal hazards included engineering solutions to prevent/mitigate risk on its highly exposed coastline, which contains considerable investment.

“[However] attempts to build ecological resilience on the Gold Coast are ad-hoc and mostly incidental, largely because of a pro-development government framework and because nature-based adaptation has not been a priority for local governments.

“Historically, [the Sunshine Coast] community has been pro-environment suggesting people live there because it is not like the Gold Coast.

“The city relies on its natural environment that provides a sustainable lifestyle … the council took a long-term adaptation approach with its Climate Change and Peak Oil Strategy 2010-20, followed by a Coastal Hazard Adaptation Strategy (CHAS).

“Historically, environmental activism has been strong on the Sunshine Coast, and not so obvious on the Gold Coast which has a higher rate of population turnover (tourists and overseas property investors).”

The report A framework for using the concept of urban resilience in responding to climate-related disasters said two factors foster institutional resilience: incorporation of resilience and adaptation in local policies/plans, and horizontal and vertical integration between key policies

With state and national institutions and policies having not provided a clear and consistent direction for local governments, the report said: “The political climate is critical for shaping resilience. This is underpinned by community and government leadership.

“The Sunshine Coast historically has had a stronger focus on green/environmental politics as opposed to the pro-development appetite on the Gold Coast.”

In preparing their report, the researchers examined the current local policies from both cities, including planning schemes, climate adaptation strategies, and disaster management plans, to assess their collective focus on resilience.

They also conducted 37 semi-structured interviews with professionals directly involved in managing, planning, and designing cities and researchers in the field. The list did not include politicians.