CoLabs Drive Urban Resilience in St. Louis, Cali, and Thessaloniki

This week we’re in Thessaloniki for a CoLab on leveraging transport investments to deliver resilience benefits. After enduring almost two decades of construction to its metro system, current progress has revealed an opportune moment for intervention in Greece’s second largest city. The CoLab will work towards advancing two key initiatives on local clusters of economic activity from the Resilient Thessaloniki strategy. Focusing on integrated planning models for commercial districts and on carving out and incentivizing spatial zones for tourism and the creative economy, these initiatives together aim to transform station areas – once a strain on the city fabric – into centers of prosperity.

A new tool from 100RC, CoLabs are ideal for member cities whose most intransigent challenges are too complex for any one sector or discipline to solve or existing market solution to tackle. CoLab topics reflect multi-city demand and typically require a cross-industry or cross-discipline, multi-partner response. CoLabs are designed to kickstart new kinds of collaborations and identify innovative and collaborative solutions and practices needed to bridge those gaps endemic to highly complex, systemic urban issues. CoLabs bring together a range of partners from across industries and disciplines to drive innovation in services, tools, and products, in a way that supports and contributes to existing local initiatives and opportunities.

The activities in Thessaloniki build off a pair of successful CoLabs in St. Louis, United States, and Cali, Colombia, earlier this year.

Resilient Economic Development in St. Louis

With racial and economic disparities listed as top concerns among stakeholders throughout the city, equitable development has been identified as a core theme in St. Louis’ developing Resilience Strategy. Yet the economic stresses faced by low-income urban communities and their households are highly systemic in nature – requiring multiple solutions that are often unavailable, unaffordable, or outside of their control.

The St. Louis CoLab generated ideas and technical assistance to fold in persistent urban challenges such as aging infrastructure, natural disaster response, education and public health deficits – leading to more holistic economic resilience. Discussions were grounded by the case study of Wells-Goodfellow, a historically underserved and highly disinvested neighborhood representative of the challenges faced by communities currently untouched by the city’s traditional economic development strategies. A number of actionable proposals emerged from the CoLab’s design and innovation sprint, three of which were prioritized by Mayor Lyda Krewson:

  • Hubs of Growth: This solution addresses the challenge of how to leverage existing economic viability and create a model to reestablish vitality in lacking areas, by fostering neighborhood hubs of economic and community activity that will drive growth in their surrounding areas. The hubs will then be linked together via neighborhood community groups and transportation corridors to ensure their success and longevity.
  • Linking Government Fees: Late fees payments owed by individuals to the city for services (i.e. parking, utility, traffic fines, etc.) will be linked to services to build financial empowerment and resilience at the household level, including a wide offering of education programs related to building financial literacy. This program would be modeled after LIFT-UP, a similar program implemented by the National League of Cities which introduced local interventions for financial empowerment through a utility payment intervention.
  • Citywide Economic Development Strategy: Leverage existing public-private partners, ranging from academia to philanthropy, to launch a study identifying strong or emerging industry clusters in the city and region; the results of which would form the basis of an economic development strategy. The strategy will focus on linking the downtown areas to neighborhoods that are disconnected and lack opportunity.

Work continues on these priority proposals. Facing similar economic development challenges, Chief and Deputy Resilience Officers from Chicago, Nashville, and Tulsa participated in the CoLab and were able to take the learnings and apply it to their city context.  Inspired by the robust discussions, the Chicago resilience team is currently working with 100RC Platform Partner IHS Markit to create an economic resilience assessment similar to the work completed in St. Louis, to determine future opportunities for the city.

Resilient School Infrastructure in Cali

Recent disasters worldwide have demonstrated that schools across the Global North and South are extremely vulnerable to natural disasters. The educational infrastructure in many countries is underfunded and overextended, not only putting children at risk, but also reducing the quality of education and limiting opportunities for economic and social growth. Furthermore, in the wake of natural disasters, despite best intentions to ‘build back better’, the opportunity to leverage investment in the reconstruction of schools is often lost due to lack of advance preparation and capacity for recovery and reconstruction.

Because the topic of school resilience is inherently crosscutting, and because it has emerged as an area of interest in resilience planning in numerous cities in the 100RC Network, the CoLab in Cali sought to provide guidance on how to integrate additional resilience benefits into the city’s current investment in its school infrastructure. Specifically, participants shared relevant case studies and developed a set of recommendations related to the design, operation, and maintenance of schools, recognizing the connection of school infrastructure to other interdependent physical and social systems – with the ultimate objective of reducing the vulnerability of schools to both floods and earthquakes, as well as creating economic, social, and environmental benefits for the larger community.The CoLab additionally yielded a number of proposals for Cali on the topic of school infrastructure resilience; the city has begun exploring some of these and collaborating on others with 100RC Platform Partners. Examples include:

  • A collaboration in progress with the World Bank GFDRR’s Global Program for Safer Schools to provide technical assistance in implementing their Roadmap for Safer Schools; data collection and analysis on the existing portfolio of schools will be used for prioritizing future investments based on an understanding of multi-hazard risk.
  • Rapid Solutions for Resilient Schools: Implementation of quick, low-cost solutions (e.g. attaching bookcases and shelving to walls) to address critical, non-structural, seismic falling hazards in schools while longer-term mitigation programs and investment take place.
  • Pre-Disaster Recovery Planning: Establishment of a plan for recovery in advance of a disaster event to establish clear roles and responsibilities of key actors, proactively address policies and procedures that could create roadblocks to resilient reconstruction and pre-identify opportunities to leverage the disaster as a resilience-building opportunity.
  • Community Integration: Establishment of co-responsibility between communities and government for the implementation of resilient school infrastructure from design to construction to operation.
  • Compulsory Training for School Contractors: Development of a certification program for local builders and a requirement that all contractors who work on school infrastructure construction meet certification requirements.
  • Updating of Regulations to Reflect Local Needs and Resilience: Embedding of resilience and increased flexibility in national zoning regulations to allow for appropriate local and site-specific approaches that support progressive improvement.

The experiences in St. Louis and Cali have demonstrated the effectiveness of enabling cities and potential partners to collaborate on solutions, in particular for the complex challenges that are at the root of chronic stresses and the vulnerabilities to shocks they enable. We look forward to further scaling up the CoLab methodology as a valued tool for building urban resilience and deploying it in additional cities facing complex resilience challenges.