What is Safer Cities All About?

To many people, particularly in North America, small town and country living represented a golden age of cultural cohesion and social values. Big city living brought urban blight, environmental challenges, congestion and crime. It turns out, however, that large urban areas are much more efficient at delivering quality services to their residents than are rural communities. Big cities in the developed world also happen to be economic engines in their own right. They create wealth, which is why people want to move there.

Obviously some cities are more successful than others and economic success, by itself, is not enough. However, big cities have been around long enough for us to have been able to study them and see what we can learn so that we can head off some of the problems we know are coming our way. I suspect the biggest problem we will face is that of inaction – not due to laziness but to indecision, as we commission study after study in search of the perfect solution and then argue over how we pay for it.

Perhaps we should pay more attention to re-evaluating our natural surroundings to see how we can incorporate them into making our cities more efficient and safe.

In North America we have become quite familiar with the annual disruptions to life in regions that experience hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, ice storms or forest fires. However, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and super-storm Superstorm Sandy showed us just how unprepared we are to deal with ‘The Big One’. Nearly all communities have emergency plans drawn up to maintain essential services and keep people safe. Of course we don’t know if they’ll work until disaster strikes and they get put into practice – but then it will be too late to make corrections. So I decided to undertake a reality check.

I selected different cities in the developed and English speaking world and asked to study their emergency preparedness plans. Not surprisingly I found a huge range in the approaches taken and solutions offered. I rank the cities according to the efficiency, accessibility, accountability and other key attributes of their emergency plans.

We can only hope these plans will never be needed. However, simply waiting to find out of if they will work, or fail, is not much of a choice.