Management of risk in cities is increasingly complex. Asuncion has conducted an in-depth resilience profiling assessment with the support of UN-Habitat.
Safety, risk and protection do not make headlines when managed well in a city and only feature on political agendas after major incidents when populations are aware of their importance. In many cities, addressing risk does not go beyond preparing for ‘natural disasters’ by large-scale infrastructure projects. Some municipalities will have a specific department working on this issue, while others rely on national governments under the overall umbrella of civic protection.
By channeling efforts into a resilience project, UN-Habitat has worked with the Municipality of Asuncion, Paraguay, to create a resilience profile of the city that includes all the key ingredients to resilience.
Cities are, at their core, people. Resilience comes from the actions of living and working in the city, from the Mayor to urban residents. However, for resilience to be far-reaching, it must consider the needs, realities and power to act of everyone, especially those most at risk and traditionally excluded. Building resilience should empower urban residents to know what they can do to reduce risk, prepare for shocks and support city-wide recovery efforts.
In Asuncion, Paraguay, the Municipality championed the cross-sector resilience profiling set out by UN-Habitat in the City Resilience Profiling Tool. Through a series of workshops (four), numerous departments from the Municipality were brought together to establish how their department can (and is) contributing to the resilience of the city. The workshops and the follow-up resulted in the city gathering key data on mobility, basic services, economy, environment, and other key areas of the city’s functionality.
To ensure that considerations beyond the Municipality’s departments were also taken into account, stakeholder engagement extended to 88 city actors, from international actors such as the World Bank to private companies, universities and neighbourhood-level NGOs, national ministries to women’s groups.
The role of each stakeholder is mapped in relation to the city’s functionality and potential risks it faces. For example, understanding the role of the energy provider in the city and engaging them in the process allowed the municipality to better understand how supply could be compromised in cases of flooding by looking at where the plants are located.
Each city is unique and operates in a specific context. The different functions, components and services offered in the city fluctuate over time however to assess which areas of the city’s performance are most vulnerable, resilience profiling seeks to gather key data and indicators. For each of the 144 indicators, a set of benchmarks adapted to the city are suggested, resulting in an easy-to-read photograph of the city.
In Asuncion, the Municipality was able to gather over 60% of the data requested by consulting with various departments and city stakeholders (see above). Data was also gathered from the national government and from research papers and reports on the city. All data collected was verified with stakeholder and counter-checked with other sources of data for consistency. The resulting profile is a useful dataset for decision-making across the city. Measuring urban performance has allowed the city to set realistic targets and goals that can be integrated into and mapped across the functions of the city.
All cities face risks but some are easier to track than others. History can reveal recurring threats such as flooding, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, but the frequency and magnitude of these natural threats is changing. Human-made threats such as cyber-attacks, political unrest and epidemics may be less easy to identify when using historical data only. Combining data on both types of hazards with the internal stressors faced by the city (unemployment, poverty, housing crisis, etc.) allows for a comprehensive in-depth risk mapping.
In the city of Asuncion, historic data on flooding was gathered as one of the main natural challenges faced by the city however this was crosschecked with data on water resource management to assess vulnerability in the entire water cycle. Similarly, economic growth and inequality were revealed as stressors that left some urban residents more vulnerable than others. Data gathered from the local and national government was combined with satellite data to create climate change predictions based on the changes witnessed over the previous 40 years. This extensive risk mapping not only revealed why the city needed to act but also gave prioritisation to the action areas outlined below.
Context is everything. In addition to analysing the risks of a city, current policies and initiatives should be included in any city resilience assessment. Building this evidence base allows cities to analyse the potential impact of current plans, policies and initiatives on its resilience. From these findings, cities can effectively modify and improve existing initiatives, as well as propose new initiatives from a resilient and sustainable approach adapted to their specific context.
In Asunción, more than 80 existing documents were collected, including documentation related to sectorial and development and territorial planning, to evaluate the degree to which stresses would be affected – improved, worsened, or remain the same – by the application of policies, programmes, initiatives and projects, at any administrative level, whether they are approved or not. The analysis revealed which issues related to each of the stresses are already being adequately addressed and which issues are not currently being addressed. The findings helped guide the city to see which existing plans and projects would improve the city’s performance if implemented, and the areas which require the development of new initiatives to decrease the intensity or eliminate identified stresses.
Actions for Resilience in Asuncion
After analyzing the city‘s performance, as well as its current policies and initiatives in place, the team from the Municipality of Asunción and UN-Habitat identified key Actions for Resilience, aimed at correcting and reorienting public policies around stresses and potential shocks related to water, spatial urban structure, and economy in key geographic areas in Asuncion. The Actions include actions for direct implementation into already approved city planning, measures to be pursued by the city through agreement with other city actors or government actors beyond the local level, and resilience priorities for advocacy at the institutional level.
In Asuncion, water remains a constant source of emergency and concern, and current city actions around water focus on managing and mitigating emergencies. The abundance of high-quality water resources from rivers and basins in the city provides a unique opportunity for the city to move away from a reactive approach to water issues, and establish sustainable water solutions. Actions for Resilience around water in Asuncion include:
- Basin restructuring: revise the new Urban Development Plan of the City of Asunción, which currently being drafted, to reorient the water catchment and distribution network and related infrastructure, which will allow all sectoral programming and water catchment planning to be improved and aligned with national programmes.
- City expansion: coordinate the configuration of water basins into current city plans to develop a coastal strip to resettle populations displaced by the construction of flood barriers.
- Revitalisation of the Historic Centre: introduce criteria into current planning for the design of the public space that reduces vulnerability to torrential rains to and ensure that the infrastructural capacity is sufficient for an increase in the population and demand throughout the area.
Spatial urban structure
Land use and economic activities in the urban layout of Asuncion are unbalanced, creating significant pendulum movements between the urban centre where services and work are concentrated, and the low-density residential areas in the periphery. In addition to impacting mobility patterns and accessibility to the main points of attraction, the city’s unequal spatial urban structure generates fiscal costs, creates loss of competitiveness and opportunities for the city, and impacts social inequalities and health due to air pollution from transportation.
Current municipal approaches around mobility focus on traffic issues and management of transportation, but the city’s spatial urban structure as a whole must be incorporated into public policies, with particular focus on spatial organisation and configuration, the general urban model, the redistributive location of urban amenities, and land uses. Actions for Resilience around the spatial urban structure in Asuncion include:
- Basins restructuring: Implement small-scale projects along the water basin areas, creating and distribution jobs beyond the concentration of economic activity in the city centre, which will decrease congestion and lessen the impacts of current mobility patterns.
- City expansion: current plans to develop the Coastal Strip will drastically increase the city’s land area, presenting opportunities to improve mobility issues and break the pattern of pendulum movement between the urban centre and the low-density residential areas in the periphery. Through ensuring planning for new area facilitates walking, and allocates different percentages of land or building uses and economic activities the city can avoid reproducing problematic mobility patterns and socio-spatial segregation.
- Revitalisation of the Historic Centre: elaborate on current city planning to improve lack of housing and public use of land, through restoring the built environment and focusing on public spaces, reversing the trends of population loss.
Asuncion constantly attracts new inhabitants, often they are unskilled workers and contribute to the city’s expanding informal economy. While the city currently has initiatives to increase employment through training and capacity building, new development projects present the opportunity to create a long-term economic development strategy. By incorporating economic initiatives into the basins, coastal strip, and historic centre projects, the local government can stimulate the local economy, improve the livelihoods of unskilled people, and create economic opportunities for young people. Actions for Resilience around the economy in Asuncion include:
- Integrated economic development programming: in line with the strategy proposed in the 2030 National Development Plan of Paraguay, define an economic development programme to be implemented in the basin restructuring, coastal strip city expansion, and historic centre projects. The programme should be promoted to attract private investment initiatives.
- Standardize economic development processes: Establish processes to guide development projects to leverage existing economic assets in project areas, and integrate sectoral initiatives to benefit to inhabitants including health, education, and heritage and culture.