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Cooperation on the path to a resilient future for cities


For Lykke Leonardsen, programme leader for green urban solutions at the Danish city of Copenhagen, the urgency to build resilient cities works over two timescales, each with its own issues.

A recent severe flooding event, for example, can prompt a call for an urgent response and open the opportunity for new measures. ‘There is a need to develop the right response, not to panic,’ she says. Otherwise the result can be maladaptation, using solutions that are either not fully tested or cost more than they should.

Equally, the transformation to a resilient city is likely to take years, meaning there is a pressing need to get this process underway as climate change continues to gather pace. Copenhagen, for example, is in the early stages of implementing what is a 20-year programme. ‘Some of these things take a long time to develop, so we need to start working on them,’ says Leonardsen, adding: ‘But it is important to take time to consider what you are doing.’

Global commitments such as the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals help drive action by cities. Leonardsen notes though that cities which have to deal with regular climate-related impacts such as flooding face a barrier in making a contribution to climate change mitigation. ‘If you are struggling to make everyday life work, it is difficult to look beyond that to the more global agenda on reducing emissions,’ she says. Action on resilience can help overcome this barrier. ‘We need to be aware of where the two agendas can meet, so that it is not two separate tracks. We need to work on both,’ she adds.


“We are looking to develop solutions that have not been tested around the world before”

Lykke Leonardsen, programme leader for green urban solutions, City of Copenhagen


Creating resilient cities is very much about moving away from relying only on traditional infrastructure solutions, instead using approaches such as building multi-functional green spaces to retain stormwater flow, as Copenhagen is doing. ‘It is one of the crucial issues,’ says Leonardsen. ‘In many places, we find that climate hazards are irregular visitors to a city, so you then need to develop something that is integrated in the way the city works, so that it does not disrupt the city.’

Leonardsen believes Copenhagen provides a useful contribution to the growing experiences of how to go about creating resilient cities. This is particularly so in terms of the overall plan that the city was able to agree to frame what will be an investment of some Euro 1.2 billion on stormwater measures over the next two decades. ‘The idea of having that overview of what can happen and how you can deal with it, I think that is a very important step for many cities to do,’ she says.

Leonardsen also highlights the experiences of Amsterdam, with its Amsterdam Rainproof initiative, and London as valuable examples to look to. ‘They show that, if you cannot get political support and finance for [a single plan], there is a different approach which is on a smaller scale but will hopefully achieve the same results,’ she says.

The uncertainty around climate change means the response of cities needs to be kept dynamic, and we are still at an early stage as far as deploying solutions is concerned. ‘We are looking to develop solutions that have not been tested around the world before,’ says Leonardsen, adding: ‘That thinking of this as some kind of working laboratory is extremely important.’

Our response also requires expertise. ‘For expertise, it is not so much about developing new expertise, but actually combining expertise in different fields,’ says Leonardsen. This is something that needs to be done at a city level, but she sees also that wider cooperation is needed: ‘I don’t think any city can do this by itself. I think we need to share.’


Lykke Leonardsen is a member of the AIWW Program Advisory Committee of the Amsterdam International Water Week.

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