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Project Summary


The sharp growth of Latin American cities in the last decades has led to an increase of vulnerable communities in informal settlements on land exposed to hazards. These are affected by climate change-related risks such as changes in surface, temperature, droughts, flooding, and more aggressive hurricanes, heightening the need to improve the resilience of such communities. Diseases associated with new atmospheric conditions are some of the consequences, further increasing the displacement of people towards cities. As urban areas expand, current levels of vulnerability, socio-spatial segregation and inequality are aggravated by an increasing demand of housing. In order to reduce disasters it is essential to develop innovative, co-created strategies for managing risk and increase resilience. 'Smart city' approaches offer an integrative perspective, establishing the potential for emerging collaboration between city governments and technology contractors.

However, these technological solutions tend to be dependent with top-down ideas, which do not necessarily take into account the needs of, or benefit for people living in poor informal communities. Those challenges that 'smart cities approaches' are faced with reflect a need for context-specific strategies and solutions that respond to the needs of the most vulnerable. Therefore, the aim of this project is to enable city communities to monitor and mitigate climate change-related risks as well as enable communities to develop strategies to adapt to those risks through the co-creation of local, bottom-up initiatives using smart-city solutions.

The project will develop an interactive networking smart-technology, enabling city-communities to share best practice on monitoring climate change-related challenges, and to allow them to create solutions that enhance managed adaptation, in close collaboration with local and national institutions, and other relevant stakeholders. The research is structured around three work packages aimed to address the following questions: (i) how do local communities and local institutions perceive and adapt to climate change-related risks and what are the roles of private and public sector organisations in taking adaptive action? (ii) how could a co-created smart-technology help communities to monitor and adapt to these climate change risks? (iii) how can this technology, using community knowledge and experience, help create and influence climate change-related local and national policies?

The research will focus on a pilot case study in México City (Penón neighbourhood), where a traditional community is confronting flooding risk challenges. Using focus groups and semi-structured interviews, the research will implement an interactive dialogue between community members, government institutions, as well as NGOs and other stakeholders, including support agencies, and private businesses. This dialogue will result in the development of risk-mitigating strategies and actions, including smart technologies, which will be tested over the project, in order to evaluate pilot experiences and upscale these into a larger city area. Lessons learnt about risk management in Mexico City have the potential to be easily disseminated across the developing world.

Communities will be empowered through engaging in identifying, developing and testing strategies for risk-monitoring, mitigation and adaptation. The social, economic and political aspects of impacted communities, as well as an understanding the physical origins of climate change risks, will contribute to developing resilience and prevent the consequences of exposure to hazards. Finally, considering both the macro-scale and the local scale, understanding that change can emerge in collaboration with local communities and policy makers, the project will provide, along with best community practices, opportunities for interaction and negotiation between actors for increasing resilience and reducing vulnerability.


The study aims to explore the scope for, and acceptability of, climate change-related risk reducing strategies in informal, vulnerable communities. Such strategies will be explored from the community and government perspectives, understanding the barriers to flooding risk-reducing strategies, and identifying politically and practically viable approaches through active adaptation and increasing resilience, within a wider and more complex context of social and physical risk. The research purpose is to test mechanisms for long term sustainable processes of risk monitoring and mitigation through engaging communities and organisations in a constructive 'dialogue of knowledges'. In addition, the research will assess how multilevel actors are influenced by, and can influence, climate change-related risks and the associated governance structures - such as the development of policies and norms - to allow greater support for climate change engagement. As a consequence, greater support for climate change engagement and adaptation will be achieved. This 'dialogue of knowledges' will be achieved by testing strategies and smart-technologies for risk monitoring and adaptation design. These strategies are conceived from a 'smart city' perspective, by implementing data collection, communication and data processing technologies systems in a pilot case in Mexico City with high levels of growth in the last two decades as well as projections of migrations due to climate change. The pilot case targets vulnerable informal settlements at the dwelling level, and engage with local communities in the development of tools for monitoring, adaptation and communication that can be upscaled at the city, national and international levels.

The project is structured around the following research objectives:

  1. To investigate how communities adapt to local climate change risks, understanding the perceptions people and institutions have of climate change-related risks, analysing the current limits and opportunities, and what role private and public sector organisations play in enabling adaptive action. The idea is to initiate interaction and discussion between these actors in order to empower their communities to learn about mitigation activities from each other and thereby allow 'managed adaptation' at reduced cost, resources and effort.

  2. To develop, implement and test co-created tests smart-technologies as tools to communicate, monitor and mitigate flooding risk in vulnerable communities. This technology will include flooding modelling and monitoring based on the analysis of satellite images and of high technology sensors, as well as community knowledge and adaptation to climate change risk. This technology will be co-produced for the easy and user-friendly information of entrepreneurs, businesses, policy makers, and local community member's efforts to mitigate climate change.

  3. To explore the potential for these approaches and techniques to be rolled out at the wider scale with community-based researchers, using training and communication programmes; establishing mechanisms replicable to different cities, and creating society-wide change using smart-technology that incorporates community knowledge and experience and simultaneously helps to create and influence climate change-related local and national policies. Once the lessons learned and recommendations have been identified from the pilot experience, the smart-technology developed will be implemented in two additional communities that experience climate change-related risks to also investigate and develop recommendations on the sharing of knowledge between communities and impact on local and national policy making.


Mexico City, Mexico


University of Edinburgh

Heriot-Watt University

Instituto Politécnico Nacional, Mexico City

Research Team UK

Dr Soledad Garcia-Ferrari

Dr Harry Smith

Dr Kathi Kaesehage

Dr Ryan Woolrych

Melisa Miranda

Fraser Hay

Dr Meiko Mekita

Dr Amelia Bain

Research Team Mexico

Dr Milton Montejano Castillo

Dr Mildred Moreno Villanueva

Dr Joel Francis Audefroy

Dr Norberto Dominguez

Dr Aleyda Resendiz Vasquez

Dr Luis Carlos Cruz Ramírez

Dr Edith Montesinos Pedro

Dr Nelly Cabrera

Funding Body

Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC)

Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología, Mexico (CONACYT)

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Co-producing urban resilience to climate change: Innovation for integrated risk management

An online knowledge exchange event hosted by the Centre for Contemporary Latin American Studies (CCLAS) at the University of Edinburgh (UK), The Urban Institute (TUI) at Heriot-Watt University (UK), and Instituto Politécnico Nacional (Mexico),

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Developing co-created smart city solutions for managed adaptation and monitoring of hydro-meteorological climate change-related risk in Mexico
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