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City-to-city learning for urban resilience: The case of water squares in Rotterdam and Mexico City

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Silvana Ilgen, Frans Sengers, Arjan Wardekker

Original languageEnglish
Article number983
Number of pages21
JournalWater (Switzerland)
Issue number5
Accepted/In press7 May 2019
Published10 May 2019


King's Authors


Cities worldwide are building 'resilience' in the face of water-related challenges. International networks have emerged through which urban communities draw on each other's experiences and expertise in order to become resilient cities. Learning is a key principle in resilience-building, but thus far little empirical research is available on city-to-city learning and learning for urban resilience. This paper presents an analysis of how policy relevant knowledge on the notion of 'Water Squares' is exchanged between Rotterdam and Mexico City. We mobilize a framework composed of four distinct phases: exploration and marketing (phase 1), building pipelines (phase 2), translation and adoption (phase 3), and internalization and reflection (phase 4). Critical in first phase was introspective analysis of one's own systems, strengths and weaknesses, rather than an outward-looking search for knowledge or mentees. During the second phase, the cities reframed their own narratives to match those of their counterparts as a way to create a mutual understanding of each other's struggles and histories. This facilitated policy and knowledge exchange as equal partners on a basis of trust. In the third phase, strong local leaders were recruited into the process, which was key to anchor knowledge in the community and to reduce the risks of losing institutional memory in centralized, hierarchical institutions. For the fourth phase it should be stressed that by internalizing such lessons, cities might strengthen not only their own resilience, but also enhance future exchanges with other cities.

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