The 5 H’s of my Resilient Cities 2013 experience

I had the privilege of being a blogger and tweeter during Resilient Cities 2013. Offered the opportunity to return this year, no choice could have been easier. When I look back, five categories of memories – three of which I want to relive and two that were not as pleasant– pop into mind:


My first impression upon arriving in beautiful Bonn and the Gustav-Stresemann-Institut venue was the professionalism, devotion and smiles of all ICLEI staff, volunteers and participants (and hotel staff). It stood very clear that passion was everywhere – a thought that was confirmed time and again during the very well-executed weekend. The passion also expressed itself through the many vibrant calls to action, which for me was a fresh gust of normative wind in these contexts.


The diversity of sessions and session types I had the opportunity to visit – and of the many I sadly couldn’t – struck me next. It was evident in the vast variety of session topics that the necessary holistic approach to resilience and adaptation to climate change was present, but, more importantly, this integrated nature also existed in each and every session themselves. One resulting message – that the complexity of our common challenges can be a boon as well as a bane – was often iterated and made it clear that the world (much thanks to the ICLEI network) can use holistic socio-ecological methods to create synergies and benefit from no-regret options; transition *can* be relatively easy and more than a strain on economies.


Emanating from the above realization, an energizing atmosphere of optimism and positivity in the face of common challenges was everywhere at Resilient Cities 2013. It was like the conference was saying, “Humanity has the capacity, the knowledge, the financial resources, and probably even the time to address our environmental problems much better than through business as usual – and here are the tools”. What for me contributed to this much-needed hope the most was a realization brought to me while witnessing all the honest, open and curious dialogue between participants: no matter the countless differences among us all, we have even more in common – and we are willing to go to great collaborative lengths to safeguard these things. In other words, the conference succeeded in revitalizing the potential of ICLEI. The constant catalyzing of fruitful partnerships and glocal action were visible for everyone to see.


Plenty of urgency and warnings were also conveyed during the conference, however. Risk and vulnerability were in focus (for all the right reasons) and it was often emphasized how precious little time we have left to adapt, mitigate and build resilience  in truly effective manners. Presenters and panelists told of the harsher world approaching: doom, gloom and despair were rightfully and scientifically kept at bay, but nothing was swept under the rug either. Thus, participants left Bonn with a well-balanced and deepened understanding of adaptation and resilience around the world and with sober means of taking action.


All grand projects are forever in the making. To some extent the weekend unfortunately felt like a hole where the informed could dive deeper but into which few others braved or knew to go. The mainstream media was all but missing, the global youth was inadequately represented, and only a fifth of participants were from developing countries. A few topics were missing, too: I would for example have liked discussions on how to best communicate (the need for) resilience and adaptation, and more inclusion of planetary boundaries other than climate change, such as the nitrogen and phosphorous cycles. I know it’s a lot to ask and much to fit in on three days, but this hole needs to be filled somehow.

Nevertheless, my experience was tremendously positive. Platforms like Resilient Cities are absolutely necessary if adaptation to climate change and resilience building are to have any chance of making the difference we require of them. Thankfully, then, I am convinced that the 2014 conference will depart from 2013 and fly to even greater heights. See you there!


Tim Isaksson

Social Reporter Resilient Cities 2013 and 2014

Bc. in Political Science and Human Geography

Lund University, Sweden