A Comprehensive Guide For Cities Looking To Not Be Destroyed

The World Bank thinks urban centers are going to be in for a rude awakening as climate-induced disasters increase. So it’s offering a helpful list of ways for governments to better prepare.

A Comprehensive Guide For Cities Looking To Not Be Destroyed
Flickr user DVIDSHUB

During Hurricane Irene, New York City got a small taste of what might happen when climate change really starts wreaking havoc. But cities will have to do more than just prepare for out-of-service subways and trains–especially in developing countries that don’t have lots of cash on hand. Think of the World Bank’s 100-page guide to climate adaptation as an instruction manual for city officials in developing nations who don’t want to deal with a rioting, poverty-stricken, disaster-ridden populace.


Before thinking about protection against climate change, cities need to first analyze the problems that lie ahead. The World Bank offers a lengthy list, including air pollution made worse by rising temperatures (and the urban heat island effect), more hurricanes and typhoons, overstressed power lines from summer heat waves, a decrease in both water quantity and quality because of droughts, and increased risk of death and illness from water-borne diseases.

These problems are exacerbated in urban settlements on the edge of cities. In 2006, for example, a Philippines settlement saw typhoons trigger avalanches, mudslides, and floods. Approximately 208 people died and 261 went missing.

So how can we build resilient cities that withstand climate change? The World Bank suggests some practical measures:

  • You know how painting roofs white are thought to cool off cities? Painting the tops of buses white might be able do the same thing.
  • Create sea walls to prevent coastal flooding. Just make sure they actually work, because we’ve all seen what happens when they don’t.
  • Plan ahead for flooding. This is easier in developing countries that are still building up an infrastructure. Instead of building a bridge clearance to accommodate current water levels, make sure that it can handle future water level estimates.
  • Build more pit latrines–they’ll help conserve precious water resources during droughts. This won’t work quite as well in flood-prone dense areas where contamination is a possibility.
  • Reuse wastewater to clean streets and water parks. We’re already seeing this happen throughout the world.
  • Follow Cuba’s example and promote urban gardening in preparation for food shortages. For example, in Havana, gardeners get legal priority for unused spaces. Quito, Ecuador offers urban farmers training and seeds.
  • This may seem obvious, but rely more on distributed energy systems and renewable energy sources. Climate change (i.e. giant storms) can disrupt oil and gas infrastructures, including pipelines and platforms. Flooded roads can also hinder fuel transportation.

In developing (and even developed) countries, the big problem is financing all of this. There are ways to do it. Public-private partnerships, grants, and loans can all help out. Convincing cities and private companies that the investment is worth it–well, that will be a challenge for a long time to come.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more