Local crises and emergencies affect economic activity, damage environments, interrupt critical infrastructure services and cause direct and indirect health impacts. Cities need to ensure effective response and recovery from crises. They also need to reduce current and future hazard exposure and vulnerability. Urban design, management and planning have a prevention and risk mitigation role to play; they should therefore be integrated into local resilience strategies and plans. Several recent multilateral reports, frameworks and guidelines point to cities as leading actors in hazard mitigation and adaptation, setting priorities and enabling bottom-up approaches that further engage communities in (and make local governments more accountable for) building more healthy, sustainable, equitable and resilient cities.

As part of WHO’s Protecting environments and health by building urban resilience project, a broad literature review of urban planning, design, management and preparedness related to disasters was carried out. Academic literature published during 2015–2021 applicable to cities in the WHO European Region was compiled, and risk-informed urban planning strategies for improved local-level resilience were extracted. A brief selection of recent international reports and guidelines was also included as resources to provide context and benchmarking.

This report identifies conceptual approaches, frameworks and strategies in the literature to help cities tackle the challenges of preparing for and preventing the likelihood and severity of impacts of local extreme events. It explores how (and to what extent) urban planning, management and design can be a mechanism for improved preparedness and resilience.

The findings show that published research based on a single hazard type is common: around 60% of the papers reviewed were found to be hazard-specific. The report discusses a number of strategies that are particularly relevant to certain hazard types, distinguishing between those entailing modification or design of physical infrastructure and those that relate to governance, communication and public engagement. For instance, heatwaves and the urban heat island effect are frequently linked to dense and impervious urban fabrics, and call for greater green coverage through nature-based solutions. In this sense, local planning regulations (such as mandatory minimum green space ratios) could help increase the amount of green coverage in cities. This in turn could be highly relevant for preventing (or mitigating the effects of) floods in urban environments – traditionally reliant solely on grey infrastructure, which may not be able to cope with the future levels predicted due to climate change. Earthquake preparedness involves optimal design of open spaces within the city to
act as shelters, as well as up-to-date inventories of the road network and building stock. Improving building resistance is crucial when facing both seismic events and strong winds during storms. For the latter, increasing public knowledge and risk awareness related to storms can improve personal and household preparedness measures, which were also found to be potentially relevant in mitigating impacts and reducing recovery time.

Reference information

WHO Regional Office for Europe

Published in Climate-ADAPT Jun 27, 2022   -   Last Modified in Climate-ADAPT Apr 4, 2024

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