Promoting Urban Resilience - The CityStrength Diagnostic

March 17, 2017


CityStrength is a rapid diagnostic that aims to help cities enhance their resilience to a variety of shocks and stresses. A qualitative assessment developed with support from the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), the diagnostic takes a holistic and integrated approach and encourages collaboration between sectors to more efficiently tackle issues and unlock opportunities within the city. CityStrength is flexible and can adapt to different needs of clients in terms of depth and breadth, and can be implemented in any city regardless of size, institutional capacity, or phase of development.

With most of the global population and capital goods concentrated in urban areas, cities are key to social development and economic prosperity. They are drivers of national economic growth and innovation, and act as cultural and creative centers. But rapid and unplanned urbanization also brings challenges that are exacerbated by the effects of climate change. With a greater concentration of people, assets and infrastructure in urban areas, an increasingly complex range of shocks and stresses can put in jeopardy human wellbeing and hard-won development gains.

The World Bank’s Resilient Cities Program, launched in December 2013, aims to help cities adapt to a greater variety of changing conditions and withstand shocks while maintaining essential functions.

Within this global context and with support from the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), the CityStrength Diagnostic was developed to help cities understand their exposure to risks, level of resilience, and the performance of urban systems while facilitating a dialogue among stakeholders—such as different levels of government, civil society, residents, and the private sector.

The CityStrength Diagnostic is structured around sectoral modules that cover topics within the city and metropolitan area purview, including Community and Social Protection, Disaster Risk Management, Education, Energy, Environment, Health, Information and Communications Technology, Local Economy, Logistics, Municipal Finance, Solid Waste, Transport, Urban Development, and Water and Sanitation. Because cities depend on a complex network of infrastructure, institutions, and information, the CityStrength Diagnostic first evaluates sectoral resilience and then brings together the findings to identify interlinkages that determine the resilience of the city holistically. The end result of the process is a prioritized list of structural and non-structural actions to enhance the overall resilience of the city as well as to increase the resilience-building potential of planned and aspirational projects.

The CityStrength Diagnostic has been piloted in multiple contexts – at the city level in Can Tho, Vietnam and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; at the national level in 10 additional regional capitals in Ethiopia; and at the metropolitan level in 16 municipalities in the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area. As a result, cities have benefitted in the following aspects:

  • Development Impact – CityStrength identifies investment priorities in relation to city-wide resilience-building needs, rather than looking at isolated sectoral issues. This holistic approach means that the recommendations better align with local goals and development objectives and they can be taken forward with the support of a variety of development institutions.
  • Inclusion – CityStrength invites multiple stakeholder perspectives, including across departments and tiers of government, civil society, and the private sector.
  • Adaptability – CityStrength can be tailored to fit the needs of the client. This includes covering any city regardless of size, institutional capacity, or phase of development, as well as the ability to cover multiple municipalities.
  • Learning – CityStrength encourages learning and exchange on the issue of resilience and exposes stakeholders to global best practices by facilitating engagement with sectoral specialists.

The CityStrength Diagnostic consists of 5 stages, book-ended by leadership commitment for resilience on the front-end and a longer-term engagement with development partners through financing or technical assistance at the back-end. 


City Strength Diagnostic - Stages


  1. Stage 1 focuses on collecting information and leveraging efforts that have already been undertaken in the city.  A review of  relevant studies, reports, or plans developed by the city, the World Bank, or other development partners is conducted. Key findings are summarized in order to brief participants during a launch workshop as well as specialists supporting the diagnostic. Specific background studies or data collection initiatives can also be undertaken during this stage.
  2. Stage 2 is a launch workshop. The objectives of the workshop are to inform  participants about planned activities, put the interests and priorities of different stakeholders into a holistic framework of urban resilience, demonstrate commitment by high-level government officials so that technical staff are fully engaged throughout the diagnostic, and confirm the city’s priority areas.
  3. Stage 3 consists of consultations and field visits facilitated by specialists to better understand the challenges and opportunities in the city and to measure how well key systems are performing in relation to the characteristics of resilience: robustness, coordination, inclusiveness, reflectiveness, and redundancy. This also gives city departments the opportunity to learn about each other’s work programs and ongoing resilience activities. CityStrength has been designed with a modular structure so that it can be tailored to each city, targeting issues that are identified as priorities during the pre-diagnostic review and discussions with local government.
  4. Stage 4 is the prioritization of actions and investments to enhance resilience in the city. This is done by the city administration jointly with World Bank staff using multiple “lenses” to qualitatively identify the most important measures for city leaders to consider:
    • While the ultimate goal of the CityStrength Diagnostic is to enhance the city’s long-term resilience, it is important to understand the nature of any immediate threats or vulnerabilities (Lens 1).
    • It is also crucial to better comprehend the direct and indirect effects (Lens 2) of shocks and stresses in the city by examining interdependencies across key infrastructure systems and services. This aids in identifying measures that could be taken in one system that will deter problems in another.
    • Identifying cross-cutting issues (Lens 3) can help to give priority to measures that maximize co-benefits.
    • Finally, aligning recommended actions and investments with local goals and objectives (Lens 4) increases the likelihood that the recommendations have sufficient stakeholder support to become a reality.
  5. Stage 5 is a presentation to local leadership on the findings of the Diagnostic followed by a discussion on priorities and next steps. After this, the results of the CityStrength Diagnostic are disseminated for the local government to facilitate communication with a broad set of internal and external stakeholders, including fundraising efforts to implement the recommendations.

The abovementioned stages are standard across all implementations, however, the stages can also be slightly modified to meet specific needs of the client.

Collaboration on Urban Resilience

The World Bank is a member of the Medellin Collaboration on Urban Resilience and the Cities Alliance’s Joint Work Programme on Resilient Cities. They are both partnerships with other international institutions with the purpose of facilitating the flow of knowledge and financial resources to help cities become more resilient to disruptions related to climate change, disasters caused by natural hazards, and other systemic shocks and stresses – including the socio-economic challenges associated with rapid urbanization. Both partnerships are essential as nations prepare for the implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and the New Urban Agenda, and they will help by:

  • Strengthening local governments by harmonizing, developing, and piloting tools to integrate resilience into city planning and development strategies;
  • Ensuring urban poor groups are at the center of citywide resilience solutions;
  • Catalyzing access to existing and innovative finance mechanisms, including risk-based instruments, to reduce exposure and vulnerability to shocks and increase cities’ adaptive capacity; and
  • Supporting capacity development of cities to achieve their goals by facilitating the direct sharing of best practices and knowledge enhancement.

In January 2017, the members of the Medellin Collaboration and the Joint Work Programme on Resilient Cities, with support from a grant from the Cities Alliance, launched an online platform called “” to help local governments and city stakeholders find and understand the wide range of tools and diagnostics designed to assess, measure, monitor, and improve city-level resilience. CityStrength is included among the tools showcased. Furthermore, the platform features case studies of cities that have implemented the different tools and their subsequent results.