Making real estate assets resilient to the effects of climate change is a key priority for the industry, however, more needs to be done to make the communities around those assets resilient too.
The ULI Asia Pacific Summit, held in Hong Kong and livestreamed in late August, devoted considerable time to questions of climate resilience, but one panel in particular focused on building cooperative community resilience in Asia.
A first stage for community resilience could be to use the same tools which are being used for asset resilience. Raymond Rufino, chief executive of NEO, the Philippines’ leading sustainable developer, spoke about the IFC’s Building Resilience Index, which NEO has trialed for its portfolio. This index scores buildings on their resilience to climate effects such as flooding and storms and rates them accordingly, allowing landlords to identify, manage and disclose risk.
However, he said expanding this to cover communities was very much a work in progress. “Community resilience is more complex. The next big area that we need to focus on is how do we use that data and come up with metrics, strategies and programs for community level resilience.”
Christine Loh, chief development strategist at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology’s Institute for the Environment, noted that the built environment and engineering industries were good at dealing with the physical risks of climate change, but government-and-community cooperation is needed to create social resilience when extreme weather events strike.
The rising likelihood of extreme climate events means communities need to be informed and vulnerable people identified so the public and nongovernmental organization sectors can prioritize them, she said. “We need to combine the hard and soft infrastructure,” she said.
Community resilience means more than just resilience to the effects of climate change, Ian Ralph, associate principal, at architect Skidmore, Owings & Merrill pointed out. He noted that more than 70% of the master planning projects his firm has carried out in the Greater Bay Area – comprising nine Guangdong cities plus Hong Kong and Macau, and Southeast Asia – in the past five years had to address resiliency as a key condition. However, this almost always meant addressing resiliency from a physical perspective.
“We are all quite aware of the risks in terms of environment for the GBA. But I think we also need to be aware that there are 70 million people there and $1.6 trillion worth of GDP, and it’s all converging into a very clustered crowded area in the middle,” he said.
“We have to think about how those communities can survive and adapt over time. And that adaptation really has to do with health and the quality of life. We see there’s an ageing population. There are issues of air quality and of course, we have the issue of the pandemic and health responses to it.”
Ralph said SOM had been involved with the first urban design guidelines for a GBA project which addressed health and well-being. The project, over 80 ha (197.7 acres) at Panyu near Guangzhou, needed guidelines to address aspects such as ventilation and air quality, views and access to nature and resilience during an emergency or a health crisis. The project incorporates “different beneficial health components such as walkable, shaded greenways,” he said.
As in other sustainability-focused sessions, the discussion focused on the importance of collaboration. Moderator Sarah Barns, strategic adviser and research consultant at Sitelines Media, asked the panel to consider what new partnerships or strategies they saw or would like to see.
Rufino said that any technology solution could aggregate data for individual buildings and portfolios but would need public-private partnerships to move forward to improve the level of resilience of both individual buildings and the community as a whole. “That’s a more challenging discussion,” he said.
Loh said the real estate industry needed to move things forward and co-ordinate better in order to drive the narrative: “The influential people who already believe in [the importance of community resilience] need to create the right narratives, and platforms like ULI and others, where we can all come together, can help us get the message out there that collaboration needs to take place. If we organize ourselves better, in two or three years, we can go quite a long way.
“I don’t see that there’s a lack of knowledge. But finding the right kind of dialogue or cooperative platform is quite difficult. To sustain it, people need to continue to participate in an organized way where there are specific narratives and messages coming out, with the intention to change policy and for people to cooperate. This actually is quite difficult. That’s why it’s not happened.”
The panel agreed that the ULI could be a focus for collaboration across the Asia Pacific region.