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Building resilience

We should heed Giddens’ advice on city resilience and climate change, writes James Pallister

Anthony Giddens, the LSE-based sociologist who gave early intellectual depth and direction to the New Labour project, was the keynote address at last week’s Electric City 2012 – the 11th edition of the LSE Cities conference series – in a session entitled ‘An urban response to climate change’.

Despite the late 20th century trend of shrinking cities, we shouldn’t overlook the city as a productive hub, as well as one of consumption, said the Labour peer. Giddens thinks we are going through a ‘momentous change’ where computers are ‘entering reality’. Giddens gave 3D printers as an example, calling them the ‘Arkwright’s Spinning Jennies’ of our era, referring to the early mechanised spinning machine that ushered in the industrial revolution. We will soon be at a stage where a plane ‘can fly straight out of the printer’. Or indeed, print ‘all the parts to assemble a gun from a computer’. The proliferation of fab-labs could reverse the late 20th century assumption that manufacturing will inevitably move from the West to cheaper climes.

Climate change, said Giddens, requires modern cities to be ‘resilient’; New York City’s recent floods are a harbinger of the future: ‘You can’t blame every weather event on climate change but you can say that everything is on track for superstorms that will make Hurricane Sandy look like dust in a puddle.’

Building resilience will be expensive and politically challenging. But ‘politicians in democratic countries are not very good at long-term thinking’. The reaction of our citizenry – politicians and populous alike – to problems of such magnitude that are difficult to comprehend tends to be to yawn, switch the channel and disengage. Giddens’ challenge – in what he calls an era of high risk and reward – is to overcome this impulse.

James Pallister visited Electric City 2012

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