What could be better to show the urgency for action than holding the annual European Urban Resilience Forum at 38 degrees Celsius in Bonn on 25 June 2019. Despite the heat (or because of the heat?), we have had many inspiring discussions between cities on how to implement climate change adaptation action. Also, I was excited that we could bring smaller municipalities more into focus. Usually, we see action in middle-sized and big cities, but smaller ones need to adapt as well. In a specific session, I explored together with colleagues from the towns of Weiz (Austria), Coswig (Germany), Urbino (Italy) and others the challenges and barriers of smaller municipalities.
The first argument that came up was that there is hardly any staff capacity available - if any. In Coswig, for example, Olaf Lier and Maria Gruber from the Regulatory office of the city took on the task to take care of frequent flooding issues – not really fitting in the task profile of the office, but they act! Urbino collaborates with Andrea Carosi, an external expert on adaptation and heritage, and in Weiz: climate change adaptation is one amongst Barbara Kulmer’s many tasks, who is responsible for energy, mobility and environment. Staff members of small municipalities are seldom adaptation experts; however, when disaster strikes, like a flood event in Coswig and Weiz, they have to act. While searching for solutions and implementing first action, they build up knowledge and capacities in parallel. Much depends on the personal engagement of staff. In this process, regional authorities like Styria in the case of Weiz, or regional initiatives, like the LIFE -projects LocalAdapt for Weiz and Coswig or SecAdapt for Urbino, have provided important support in the form of knowledge and capacities. The wheel doesn’t need to be invented again and again by each small town itself; capacities can be bundled in a regional support.
While I had already written about smaller municipalities’ lack of staff capacities and the power of a regional approach in my blog article Is urban adaptation just for big and affluent cities?(17/10/2017), I learned now that the
expert-driven systematic approach and many well-developed tools do hardly fit for reality and the capacities in small municipalities, in particular, when they are at the beginning of the process.
Instead of following a comprehensive cyclic adaptation planning process, like the Urban Adaptation Support Tool produced by the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy among many
other available tools, they start to tackle a concrete problem that was exposed through the extreme event.
Will the unconventional approach work?
As an expert, we might argue, that this is not after the books and dangerous. They might select measures that are not optimal to tackle the problems. On the other hand, the action is very concrete - for the administrative staff as well as for the citizens. It can be a starting point. And while getting first-hand experience and building up capacities and knowledge, municipalities can slowly broaden their perspective and look into further adaptation issues. In this way of learning by doing, they can stepwise achieve a more systematic and comprehensive approach. Facilitating and supporting them in their journey and providing tailored knowledge along the way can be a more effective way than pointing them to well-elaborated tools available at the internet and insisting on a systematic comprehensive approach right from the start.
Finally, also at my doorstep, the neighbouring town of Heusenstamm has chosen a citizen-driven co-creation approach. While, that can be a bumpy road - and I wonder if it works in the absence of a systematic climate change impact assessment - I am curious to follow that inspiring process, to learn on how to make adaptation happen in smaller municipalities and how to support them best.