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Meet ECCI's newest resident organisation - Tomorrow’s Cities

Tomorrow’s Cities has recently become an ECCI resident - a new £20m 5-year interdisciplinary research hub aimed at addressing urban disaster risk in low and medium income countries. Dave Bell, the Hub’s communication and knowledge exchange specialist, reflects on the grand challenge they face and why they are excited to be part of the ECCI community.

For more information about Tomorrow’s Cities, visit their website or talk to one of their team, based in the Assembly Room at ECCI!

Tomorrow’s Cities has lofty ambitions. Almost certainly loftier than even we realise. Our mission? To reduce disaster risk for the poor in tomorrow’s cities – a straightforward statement that, when unpacked, reveals a tangle of complexity and uncertainty…

Urban disaster risk, after all, is not merely a consequence of physical hazards (think earthquakes, volcanoes, fire, flooding, landslides), which themselves are largely unpredictable and can interact to produce unexpected effects. It is also profoundly influenced by who and what is exposed to these hazards, the social vulnerabilities of those affected, and the processes of decision making, planning and finance that shape exposure and vulnerability in the first place.

This means that the exciting new scientific insights that we’ll produce over the next 5 years cannot in themselves deliver our mission. They will only stand a chance if they are embedded within the complex social, cultural and multi-hazard context of urban life, and are accessed, understood and embraced by those who can benefit from using them. So we must operate with an awareness that we are only one small strand of a much bigger web of interactions that will shape the lives of the poor in tomorrow’s cities.

This challenge demands an entirely new way of doing research. Success will lie not in the hands of a few brilliant individuals, but in our collective ability to think and act as a whole and from multiple perspectives. We will need to learn and collaborate across categories, actively include and promote excluded voices, and be adaptive in how we manage both research and operations – responding to the unintended consequences and new opportunities that will inevitably emerge.

On any given day we could be doing anything from discussing the challenges of equitable partnerships, to hosting a call on research budgets with partners from Quito and Kathmandu, to designing an information management system that will help steer us through uncertainty. Most likely we’ll be grappling with how to solve an awkward and entirely unanticipated problem… And this is before we have a small team of postdoctoral researchers join us, pouring thought into the interactions between multiple hazards for vulnerable communities.

In other words, we are constantly striving to innovate and collaborate. But it’s not easy and we certainly don’t have answers to many questions – there are no ‘best’ or even ‘good’ practice guidelines for most of what we do.

This is why we are so excited to be joining the ECCI community – because innovation and collaboration is your jam. The building is full of entrepreneurs and intrepreneurs working to tackle the same fundamental challenge: to make a positive impact in a complex world.

My question to you is: how can we learn from each other?