Featured article: "Building resilience key to withstanding sudden shocks to the system"

Clover Moore, Lord Mayor of Sydney

When the haze cleared from one of the worst bushfire seasons in memory, none of us expected to begin recovery in the grip of a pandemic.

Governments cannot necessarily predict the onset of such shocking events, but we can prepare for them – and build community resilience to withstand them.

In Sydney, we have been developing our “urban resilience” since 2015. Resilience is the ability to survive, adapt and thrive no matter what acute shocks are suddenly loaded onto the chronic stresses that weaken the fabric of our city on a day-to-day basis.


We’re keenly aware of those chronic stresses: issues such as rising inequity, lack of affordable housing or lack of adequate public transport are obvious. Addressing them is necessary and requires long-term, bold vision.

We’re also aware that acute shocks – sudden, sharp events – threaten our safety, wellbeing and productivity with as much potency. We don’t know when the next heatwave, flood, cyber-attack or, of course, disease outbreak will hit, but they are coming and they are all exacerbated by the city’s underlying stresses.

Our approach to resilience is underpinned by the recognition that every organisation, every level of government and every individual, has a role to play. Working together can only make us, and our communities, stronger and more resilient, whatever disruptions we may face.

In more than three decades in local government, I never imagined the day where the City of Sydney would need to hand out food hampers to thousands of people who would go hungry without us. But food relief has become one of our most important roles during the pandemic; we’re aiding in the delivery of over 20,000 meals and 1,500 staples bags a week, to vulnerable people including international students and temporary and migrant workers locked out of federal assistance. That impact is only possible with state-local funding, incredible charities and community organisations, and volunteers who put their own safety at risk in order to make sure no one goes hungry.

For all its horrors and grief, the pandemic has forced us to act urgently to address some challenges that have previously felt insurmountable. It took a stroke of a pen to make temporary accommodation available to rough sleepers across the city. And after more than ten years of building and advocating for cycleways to reduce emissions, decrease congestion and improve the health and wellbeing of our residents, we’re working with the NSW Government to install not one but six pop up cycleways as crucial life-saving measures to make space for physical distancing on public transport for people unable to walk or cycle.

Community cohesion is integral to resilience. As the crisis has evolved, people are realising that physical distancing does not have to mean social distancing. Communities are showing each other real kindness; checking in on neighbours’ wellbeing, offering help, making phone calls and having meaningful conversations. Simple acts like donating internet-enabled iPads so no one is disconnected, or supporting local businesses and artists that have adapted their models of creativity to be possible in our new context have brought us closer together.

When we talk with the community about recovery post-pandemic, support for our vulnerable communities is the highest listed priority. It is this generosity and our communal desire to leave no one behind that will see us emerge stronger following this crisis. The process highlighted our best qualities as Sydneysiders – generosity, inventiveness, a willingness to pull together, and a commitment to improving the lives of all our diverse communities.

Of course, we can’t lose sight of the chronic stresses. We need to take the opportunity to consider long-term solutions to the issues laid bare by the pandemic.

As the Government looks to fund construction projects to stimulate the economy, it needs to invest in social and affordable housing. We need to ensure the housing available through the crisis is there once it passes. Investing in housing will stimulate the economy and move us towards ending homelessness in Sydney.

Soon people will return to work in the city, but will seek to maintain physical distancing. Now is the time to complete our separated cycleway network, and widen CBD footpaths. Such construction projects will stimulate the economy and improve our urban amenity, while making it safer for people to travel to and from work, and around the city.

And while we focus on recovery from the Covid-19 crisis, we need to maintain efforts to address the climate crisis. This is a perfect time to fast-track investment in renewable energy infrastructure. A successful recovery will be green-led, not a return to business as usual.

While there is a lot of uncertainty about the future, we know there are more challenges ahead. But there is one thing we know for sure: building our resilience will increase our community’s capacity to withstand these inevitable shocks and stresses.

Clover Moore is the Lord Mayor of Sydney and a signatory to the Commission for Human Future’s Letter to All Australians.


About us

The Commission for the Human Future is a body of researchers and concerned citizens dedicated to finding and developing solutions to one of the greatest challenges in human history - the combination of catastrophic global threats that now confront humanity.