What is urban resilience?

The world’s cities and towns are more densely populated and more interconnected than ever before. Extreme weather, refugee crises, disease pandemics, supply chains, cyberattacks – today’s new normal requires models of governance that mitigate risk and respond to evolving challenges.

Business-as-usual models of reactive planning and siloed decision-making will not generate the fundamental strength and flexibility essential for us to thrive in the face of the acute shocks and chronic stresses of the 21st century.

Acute shocks are sudden, intense events that threaten a community, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and terrorist attacks. The impact of acute shocks is exacerbated by chronic stresses that weaken the fabric of a community over time, such as recurrent flooding, high unemployment, limited social safety nets, and inequitable public transportation systems.

It is rare that a city experiences just one type of challenge at a time. Instead, cities are confronted by combinations of acute shocks and chronic stresses.

Urban resilience is the capacity of a city’s systems, businesses, institutions, communities, and individuals to survive, adapt, and grow, no matter what chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.

By strengthening its underlying fabric and deepening its understanding of the risks that threaten its stability, a city can improve its overall trajectory and the well-being of its citizens, prosper in the face of challenges both expected and as yet unimagined.

Urban resilience responds to three converging global megatrends: climate change, urbanization, and globalization.

Urban resilience demands that cities look holistically at their capacities and their risks, including through meaningful engagement with the most vulnerable members of a community. This is not easy work.

The current approach to urban governance is often a siloed one, with one team designing disaster recovery plans, another team exploring sustainability issues, another focused on livelihoods and well-being, and yet another on land-use planning and infrastructure. That may be an efficient way to structure the work of a city, but it is not the most effective one. Cities are systems – not silos. Cities are made up of people and places, often experiencing rapid change.

Planning for a resilient urban future requires tackling challenges and creating solutions in a place-based, integrated, inclusive, risk-aware, and forward-looking manner.

Solutions developed through resilience approaches will allow cities to enjoy multiple benefits, or resilience dividends – maximizing the value of every dollar spent, reducing and even helping to prevent the impact of shocks and stresses on the city’s people, economy, and physical environment, and improving quality of life.

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