Book Review: Governance for Urban Sustainability and Resilience

Author: Jeroen van der Heijden
Title: Governance for Urban Sustainability and Resilience;
Responding to Climate Change and the Relevance of the Built Environment

Publisher: Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, UK Northampton MA USA
Oct 2014.  ISBN: 9781782548126 eISBN: 9781782548133; Pages: 256; on-line price $102 USD. Note: Free preview of Ch. 1, references, and index from the URL noted above. 

Key words: environmental governance, sustainability, resilience, climate risk, natural hazard, disaster risk reduction, building regulation.

Reviewer: Donald Watson is an architect and planner, author of Design for Flooding: Resilience to Climate Change (Wiley 2011) and Editor-in-Chief, Time-Saver Standards for Urban Design (McGraw-Hill 2003).

This new book makes an important contribution to policy and programs for building sector energy efficiency, sustainability and resilience to natural hazards. It an essential reference for planners and policy makers engaged in programs to achieve sustainability and resilience in buildings and infrastructure. It is clearly written, with conclusions supported by case examples and references. Mr. Jeroen van der Heijden deserves praise for a very careful assessment of what has worked and not worked to improve building sustainability (energy and resource efficiency) and to increase resiliency (disaster risk reduction).

The book’s great contribution is its reasoned presentation of evidence on which to base recommendations for public and private policies, programs and projects.

The title states the theme of the book–Governance for Urban Sustainability and Resilience—roles and responsibilities for performance of buildings within existing regulations and innovative practices—as a critical variable, along with technological improvements and behavioral change, intended to change how buildings are built and used.

The focus of the book as stated in the preface is to answer the question, “What governance approaches and tools may help to improve the resource sustainability of our buildings and cities, may help to reduce their negative impacts on the natural environment and may make them more resilient to man-made and natural hazards?”

Its opening chapters address three approaches to governance: direct regulatory interventions (Ch. 2): traditional tools governments have been applying for a long time: direct regulation, subsidies, and other market interventions, with novel applications; (2) Collaborative governance (Ch. 3): how governments, businesses and civil society groups are working together: networks, covenants and negotiated agreements; and (3) voluntary programs and market-driven governance (Ch. 4): new governance tools.

The argument is supported by the author’s knowledge of the building industry across different economic and international sectors. He addresses three “governance” problems that characterize the building sector’s rate of innovation, which vary per economy: (1) Grandfathering: exempting existing buildings and infrastructure from new or amended regulation; (2) Regulating a Building Boom in Developing Economies: rapid urban expansion where regulation is not well established in developing countries, thus requiring different governance tools than regulatory interventions of governments; and (3)  “Wicked set” of Market Barriers, common barriers to innovation, existing legislation and codes, cost, fragmentation, complexity of sectors and decision points, uniqueness of every building project.

The author’s discussion of “Collaborative Governance” is timely for disaster mitigation and climate adaptation planning in the Unites States. The U.S. DHS/FEMA philosophy of “whole community”—to involve community stakeholders in setting priorities for disaster risk reduction, such as FEMA Natural Hazard Mitigation Planning—has challenges to engage citizen participation in decision making, where negotiated agreements and covenants, partnerships and networks are among measurable program outcomes. Limitations of collaborative governance are reviewed: challenges of giving all stakeholders a voice, ambiguity of roles and responsibilities, and whether simply involving any representative stakeholder group is sufficient to achieve outcomes and results.

Early models of collaborative governance are cited—e.g., ICLEI (International Council for Local Environmental Leadership) and Clinton Foundation C40 Cities: built around outreach, education and learning; with clear goals for easy access and participation; well publicized and visible networking; and programs where chief elected officials (e.g., city mayors) play a significant role in support, if not outright leadership.

Findings are put forward carefully, letting the evidence speak for itself:

  • Voluntary programs [to undertake sustainability goals] do not surpass other [non-voluntary] approaches and do not outperform non-participants [those not in the program]. [117]
  • Even under slow urban development rates as in developed economies, the impact of leading voluntary programs and market-driven governance tools is limited. [118]
  • Investment benefits for retrofits for urban sustainability are clearly represented on utilities bill, but not so the investments in retrofits for increased resilience. These investments will only “pay back themselves” when and if a disaster strikes. [120]

These are only some of the findings that this reviewer would consider particularly helpful to current policy and program formation in the U.S. and beyond, with the extant need to design for natural hazard protection and risk reduction worldwide.

The author offers principles for urban sustainability and resilience design, some obvious but worth repeating, all supported by the author’s research: [138]

  • Make enforcement and compliance an integral part of governance tools.
  • Individual governance tools have little impact; however, they can mutually reinforce one another in smart government mixes.
  • Different groups and individuals respond differently to similar governance tools, (applicable to both commercial and residential buildings).
  • While taking the high moral ground on urban sustainability and resilience is laudable, for most parties in the building sector it is (also) about the money.

The concluding chapter of the book advocates for increased due diligence in building regulation of building stock to achieve sustainability and resiliency goals. This will not attract advocates of “less regulation,” where regulation is cited as an impediment to construction cost and time budgets, much less to innovation. The author acknowledges that high performing buildings are being built under incentive programs such as LEED and other voluntary programs (which he recommends as part of the mix), but also documents the statement that,
When looking outward from within these small pockets of good practice, it appears that a lot of activity is going on. Yet, when looking into these pockets from the larger problems faced, it appears that the activity is a very small part of the building sector. [154]

Among the answers is to improve the process by which buildings are certified to be energy efficient, safe and protected to higher standards of sustainability and resilience. Buildings and cities are after all our inheritance of the past and our legacy for the future. The author’s concluding example is the City of Toronto certified professional (CP) Municipal Enforcement Officer program, wherein qualified architects and engineers certify buildings for City permits, and the building property owners meet standards established both by the City and by the building insurors (as basis of insurance rating).

Although not mentioned by the author, similar public health and safety protections have for decades been represented in fire construction and insurance standards in the U.S, now so common as to be taken for granted.

The author concludes, that “It is essential for government, business and civil society to take up new governing roles” in approval, construction and maintenance of buildings and urban infrastructure. The case for sustainability has been developed for decades. The case for resiliency is new, but can and must benefit from findings set forth here. For this reason alone, this book is essential reference.

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