Preparing for the future – the first Resilient Oxford workshop

By: Smart Oxford

Cornmarket - street in Oxford

On 26th October Oxford City Council, Oxfordshire County Council and the University of Oxford brought together a wide range stakeholders from across Oxford’s public & private sectors, academia, and local communities, for the first Resilent Oxford workshop, to help identify and evaluate the city’s challenges and priorities, and to help the city prepare for the forthcoming 100 Resilient Cities Challenge.

Resilience is about a Oxford’s ability to continue to be a functional and liveable city in the face of the physical, social and economic challenges that face it in the 21st century. This includes its ability to respond to and recover from shocks such as  fires, floods, epidemic, power failure or terrorist attack.  It’s also about how well we can cope with longer-term stresses such as high unemployment, unaffordable housing, chronic transport problems or aging infrastructure.

Participants came from a wide range of city groups and organisations including the Oxford Flood Network, community associations, community action groups, the Low Carbon Hub, British Gas, the Ecosystems Knowledge Network, the Environmental Change Institute, Nominet, Ordnance Survey, Oxford AHSN,  the Oxford Bus Company,  the Oxford Internet Institute, Wild Oxfordshire, the Oxfordshire Local Economic Partnership, the City & County Councils, University of Oxford, and Oxford Brookes University, as well as private citizens.

The workshop gave these participants the opportunity to work together in a cross-disciplinary way, to help build a picture of what city resilience means for Oxford –  the shocks an stresses that are likely to affect the city as well as recognising the characteristics that make Oxford an attractive place to live.

 The word cloud below illustrates the breadth of issues and those commonly identified by the groups.

word cloud


In group sessions, the participants identified major stressors such as a lack of sufficient and affordable housing and good transport links with the surrounding areas, evidenced by the ratio of house prices or rent to average earnings (the highest in the United Kingdom).  Regular traffic congestion problems were also a common theme, which the groups linked to the to physical constraints of the city area: the flood plain of the Thames River, and housing costs that forced workers in the city to live in surrounding towns and villages (with 46,000 commuters travelling in each day). 

The groups explored the interconnections between they key stressors, such as unaffordable housing leading to strains on the transport system, pressures to build on the city’s flood plains, and issues of poverty in the city, with the insight that solutions to these problems needed to take into account multiple stresses simultaneously.  

Inequality was identified as a key issue, with groups feeding back that unaffordability of housing means that those on below average salaries have less access to life in the city, and are more exposed to poverty.  (According to the latest Index of Multiple Deprivation Oxford has ten areas that fall within the 20% most deprived in England, and men from the least deprived areas can expect to live 8.8 years longer than those in the most deprived areas.)

The collaborative learning from the day was an invaluable resource and will feed into our immediate plans – to bid to the Rockefeller Foundation for funding for a Chief Resilience Officer – and also longer-term into the resilience planning for city.

Thanks to all who attended for a lively and intense discussion, and your insights and perspectives on what city resilience means for Oxford.

Header image: Cornmarket Street, Oxford, by Timofei Shatrov aka Grue, Creative Commons 3.0, original image cropped.