Platform. The everyday portal for sharing knowledge and intelligence on sustainability across Greater Manchester.

FutureShock – The Resilient City

That’s according to futurist Mike Ryan; from industrial revolution, to downturn, to renaissance, via disruptions like terrorism and technological shift, plus the occasional house track and discovering two-dimensional materials, the city has an adaptive capacity that truly justifies the moniker ‘original modern’.

According to Ryan there is even a US monitoring database that confirms our city’s long term position as the global capital of urban adaptability.

This long view of resilience was set before an audience at CityCo’s City Session on the subject, held over breakfast at Manchester’s Malmaison and featuring speakers from academia, the mayor’s office, business and Greater Manchester Police.

Urban resilience is a catch-all phrase often used to describe how well a city can respond to a very contemporary set of challenges, from terrorism and security to social disorder, health pandemics, technological innovations, climate change and extreme weather events.

As a member of the Rockefeller Institute’s 100 Resilient Cities network Greater Manchester has pledged to be a leading proponent of urban resilience and nowhere are the challenges faced more acutely, than across the centre of the city. From rough sleeping to flooding, or from safety to air quality, resilience is a key factor in keeping the city moving.

Risk register

The city’s official risk register as submitted to the Resilient Cities Group includes disruption from rainfall flooding, hazardous materials, terrorism, and disease outbreak as the main shocks to which we’re most susceptible.

In addition there are some stress points for the city that pose more of an ongoing problem. Here you can include entrenched poverty, homelessness, an ageing infrastructure and the continued problem of congestion.

Manchester knows what it looks like when a shockwave hits. Courtesy of an IRA bomb in 1996 and a city-wide collaborative effort to bounce back, the city’s well known as a worldwide example of urban redevelopment following a terrorist attack.

The flooding of over 2,200 properties across eight of the city region’s local authorities during Storm Eva in December 2015, costing £11.5 million in infrastructure damage is also a recent example of how we need to respond nimbly to threats like climate change.

Current estimates suggest that there are over 52,000 properties at risk from fluvial (river) based flooding plus a significant amount more from run-off and drainage/sewer issues.

Social strains and stresses make city resilience harder to achieve, too. Rough sleeping on the streets of England has more than doubled since 2010 and in the last year that statistics were available, it rose by an appalling 42% across the North West of England.


Threats, and opportunities

The CityCo breakfast session kicked off with the chair, Paul O’Hare of Manchester Metropolitan University making it clear that while the discussion would focus on major challenges like terrorism, hacking, homelessness and climate change (not uplifting), there would also be a thread running through the event of the opportunities that lie ahead for the well-prepared city (more uplifting).

“I think of Manchester as a city of great opportunity but also a city of many threats,” said Dr O’Hare. “The things that provide those opportunities are also the the source of threats, too.”

From the disruption of transport systems, to technological vulnerabilities and climate change, Greater Manchester is increasingly paying attention to a ‘risk register’ of potential shocks that it needs to counter, according to O’Hare.

“Lord Asa Briggs referred to Manchester in the 1840s as the ‘Shock City’ of the age, such was the unprecedented scale of our urbanisation and industrial expansion. As the city evolved, it has seen everything from environmental challenges like flooding to gang violence, terror and political violence. The dawn of the 21st Century has brought new challenges - climate change, cyber security - and the old challenges have not disappeared, either.”

O’Hare emphasised that even beyond the challenges being discussed at the event, there were Donald Rumsfeld’s famous ‘unknown unknowns’ that could confront the city in the future.

“It’s not all doom and gloom though,” O’Hare assured an audience possibly not ready for the eschaton over breakfast. “Not all shocks are not just threats. Yes they can be immensely disruptive but they can also bring great opportunities, too. If we embrace change and think differently how we order our cites and societies. That’s the key question, are we preparing for those shocks and being ready to make the most of them.”

And before handing over to the assembled panel of speakers, O’Hare set one specific challenge for those thinking about a more resilient city:

“Resilience is sometimes seen as an effort to regain control in the midst of all these complex urban challenges we confront. Sometimes it’s even called ‘bouncing back’; sometimes it means returning to business as usual; but I think we need to raise our aspirations.

“Perhaps business as usual simply isn’t good enough. Actually this doesn’t leave us any better prepared for another future shock. If we build innovation into our recovery process that will make us truly resilient for the future.”

Resilience under attack

After this O’Hare introduced DCS Dominic Scally from the North West Counter Terrorism Unit. The Unit’s role is to work closely with intelligence agencies, officers on the ground and city partners to look at threat assessments across the country and prepare for any attack.

Having worked as a police officer through Manchester’s IRA bombing, through the riots of 2011, and now operating with the threat level constantly at ‘severe’ or ‘critical’, Scally made it clear that he’s got use to working against a backdrop where ‘normal’ is constantly changing. Was does stay the same are basic tenets of policing.

“I go back to that great Mancunian Robert Peel,” he told the audience. “He set out a series of nine principles of policing that are as relevant today as they were when he wrote them. One really critical one is that the police are the public and the public are the police. We’re just people who are paid, full time to focus on the duties which actually are the responsibility of every citizen.”

Those responsibilities extend to businesses, too, he said. With people and organisations across the city having an active and ever important role in making the city safer, more aware and more resilient.

This role of business was then picked up by panel member Vaughan Allen, Chief Exec of CityCo.

“One of the things we showed in the attacks was the value of having a network of businesses, kept well informed and closely connected,” he said. “If you go back to the May bombing here in the city, our first business briefing was the next morning, just 12 hours after the attack. Not many other cities have those advanced networks. It came out of the riots and the first Manchester bombing and its really critical that those networks contain to thrive.”

After revealing that CityCo itself was established in the wake of an IRA bombing and in many respects was the city’s first resilience initiative, Allen was at pains to stress that training, training and then more training was the key to surviving a terrorist attack; people need to know what to do, almost instinctively.

“As Market Street and a big area of the city centre was evacuated people were very nervous indeed. This means you cannot give enough training to people. People panicked briefly on the day after, running out of the Arndale screaming that someone had a gun. The hard thing to do is to give that training without keeping people in a constant state of panic,” he continued.

“Preparedness for shocks is part of our daily life now. It needs to become as natural as health and safety,” said Scally.

Cyber secure

“One of the things that worked exceptionally well in the wake of the attack was the disciplined use of communications by the police, the Council and ourselves at CityCo,” said Vaughan Allen.

“Our role as trusted sources was really important. Social media can be unhelpful but there was an absolutely consistent and reliable source of live information. Discipline of communications is absolutely critical.

“You can calm people down and keep the city working.”

On communications and technology, O’Hare challenged DCS Scally over the role of CCTV and whether it was effective in preventing terror attacks, event though it is ubiquitous across the centre of the city.

“First of all we should reflect on the fact that we have managed to stop a significant umber of attacks in last few years through surveillance in its various forms. It does keep us safe.

“CCTV does have our implicit consent in Britain. It means we can piece events together after something has happened. It has a role in monitoring, but even as a reactive tool it is important. After the events of the 22nd of May, our ability to piece together [the bomber’s] movements through CCTV was absolutely crucial, checking if there were other devices and if he’d worked with others.

“Most of the technology is there. It’s the interface with people that can be a challenge. If there’ a tannoy blaring should everyone run out of a building or run into it?”

Mike Ryan, the futurist on the panel, picked up the thread of technology and people.

“Technology’s always been a double edged sword. It can be enabling but also a huge threat,” he said.

“If you go onto the monitoring websites of major tech security companies you cans see a live, and often state sponsored hack going on right across the world, particularly emerging out of China and Russia.”

According to Ryan, tech companies are constantly strengthening themselves against attacks and watching out for things like ‘Denial of Service’ attacks, which he likened to having so much junk mail shoved through your letterbox that you can’t move around your house any more.

“The NHS on the other hand was an easy target,” he said. “The systems hadn’t been updated, certainly not resilient.”

“If you start to look at the way our world is becoming more connected, digital and physical space are becoming much more connected. In the future we’ll need to see people again being more prepared, updated and watching out where you’re most vulnerable.

“Preparedness? It’s a mixed bag. If you’re one of the big tech companies you’re probably very well prepared. If you’re the NHS though, it might turn out you’re very ill prepared.”

According to Ryan, there are constantly evolving cyber threats, in particular, against which we have to build our resilience and bolster our awareness. He cited a Finn Air flight to Singapore crossing Russian Air Space, where the cabin crew now turned off the in-flight wifi, as they’d found Russian-based hackers were wiping laptops - in flight - belonging to their passengers.

Ryan told the audience that new technologies like Blockchain and quantum computing, made possible by the graphene discovered here in Manchester could lead to systems where security is shared between everybody, to create more unhackable systems.

Life on the streets

Also on the panel was Councillor Beth Knowles, who has been tasked by the newly elected Metro Mayor Andy Burnham, with tackling the city’s homelessness challenge. The target set by Burnham is to wipe out rough sleeping by 2020 and to make a major dent in other forms of homelessness by then, too.

For Knowles, the issue of homelessness was where social justice, city resilience and personal resilience met, as people lacking in the latter slip through the gaps in our civic safety net, gaps made all the wider through the cuts imposed through austerity.

“Is that target achievable?” She asked. “We have to have ambition to work to make this happen. One challenge is that our economic model currently that doesn’t foster resilience.”

Personal resilience and seeing people as individuals will be part of solving the homelessness crisis, she emphasised. “There is no one-size fits all. Homelessness isn’t one issue or problem. Rent, relationship break downs, mental health problems. Rough sleeping is a visualisation of where we’ve gone wrong and where our economic model hasn’t worked for everybody.”

As a challenge for social resilience, Greater Manchester as a whole is just waking up to the scale of the problem, she told the audience. With official national counts taken each November, when rough sleeping in particular is at a low ebb, the estimate is of just 200 people sleeping on the streets across the whole of the city region; this simply isn't true. She also stated that ‘hidden homelessness’ was as big a challenge as rough sleeping.

“We’ve done our own counts now and we know the problem is much bigger. There are 200 people rough sleeping in Manchester alone, around 6,000 people homeless, and 89,000 people on the social housing waiting list.

“The good news is that we have power and responsibility devolved now to Greater Manchester so now we have an opportunity to put the safety net back together for people.”

Vaughan Allen said there had been a sea change in attitudes amongst CityCo members. They’ve gone from seeing an irritant on their doorstep to a human problem that they’d like to help to resolve.

Mercury rising

The final contribution of the morning was from Dr Sarah Lindley of the University of Manchester, who outlined the very human impacts of climate change for the city. Reflecting on the far too sobering topics that had followed before she accepted that it would be understandable to see the threat of climate change “slip off the agenda”.

For Dr Lindley the issue is human because the predicted impacts of climate change are so profound in their community impact. “There will be more floods,” she said. “Also heatwaves - the August 2003 heatwave for example created 2,000 excess deaths, and this will reoccur.”

For Lindley the double hit of climate change here is that the vulnerable get hit the hardest. For example with heatwaves the homeless and older people are always hit; their personal and social resilience is much lower. Across Greater Manchester health inequalities are profound with life expectancy differing by ten years between the richest and poorest; this inequality is exacerbated by changes in climate; it also costs tens of millions of pounds each year.

Like her fellow panel members, Dr Lindley was keen to stress that all is not lost.

“Climate change isn’t all about problems and not all climate change solutions have to be painful,” she said. “If you take high temperatures, that will reduce heating costs. We’re looking at least 50 fewer heating days but we’ll have ten extra cooling days that we’ll face. There will be some losses, but also some gains.”

For Lindley her take home message was that green infrastructure (trees, green space, parklands) had the potential to dramatically increase the resilience of the city. Citing two University of Manchester projects enigmatically titled ‘Scorchio’ and ‘Resin’ she pointed out that planting trees could reduce urban heating, help to handle large amounts of rain and water, as well as helping to tackle air pollution.

“Trees can be a great solution,” she said. ‘And they can save us money and make the city more liveable.”

Closing comments and questions for the City Session on resilience focused on the role of the mayor, the prospects for businesses and the lead that Manchester could provide for other city regions, but perhaps the last word sat with Vaughan Allen of CityCo as he pointed out that the resilience of the city sits with its people, and their ability to come together come what may, to face down threats, overcome adversity, and keep making their city a great place to live, work or play.

First ever resilience officer

The CityCo event came just one week after Greater Manchester’s Mayor Andy Burnham announced that he had appointed its first ever Chief Resilience Officer, Dr Kathy Oldham, OBE.

Dr Oldham’s role has been created in partnership with 100 Resilient Cities – pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation, whose grant support will fund the role. She is head of Greater Manchester’s Civil Contingencies and Resilience Unit and played a key role in securing the city region’s successful bid to join the 100 Resilient Cities network in 2016.

As Chief Resilience Officer (CRO), Dr Oldham will work with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and leaders across the private and public sectors to find solutions to the modern challenges the city region faces – from climate change, poverty and homelessness, to flooding and life-threatening emergencies.

Dr Oldham previously led Greater Manchester’s participation in the United Nation’s Making Cities Resilient Campaign in which the city region was recognised as one of only 54 role models worldwide. A qualified doctor, she has received national awards for business continuity planning together with her role in planning for the Olympic Games in 2012.

“When we talk about resilience, we often think about disasters and emergency response but it’s actually about much more than that,” said Oldham last week.

“Resilience is a key principle that underpins many issues across Greater Manchester and I am honoured to become the city region's first Chief Resilience Officer and begin work with the Combined Authority, The Mayor, residents, businesses and our academic partners on a strategic action plan for resilience across this varied remit,” she said.

For enquiries, email