Reframing Urban Resilience – 2018

REFRAMING URBAN RESILIENCE IMPLEMENTATION

Why should we re-frame Urban Resilience and its implementation?
In what is widely now seen as a state of planetary emergency, a glaring vacuum of global leadership on how to address key drivers is noticeable. As urgent action by national leaders fails to crystalize, actions on the urban and regional level to reduce emissions, use resource more sustainably and build resilience have emerged more prominently.

In what is widely now seen as a state of planetary emergency, a glaring vacuum of global leadership on how to address key drivers is noticeable. As urgent action by national leaders fails to crystalize, actions on the urban and regional level to reduce emissions, use resource more sustainably and build resilience have emerged more prominently. The concept of urban resilience has not only been packaged into city resilience plans but has also infiltrated a number of other policies related to sustainable development, adaptation, disaster risk reduction, recovery and climate change.

But how is urban resilience defined and implemented? How compatible is the concept with sustainability? This was the topic of discussion at the 11th International Forum of Urbanism ‘Reframing Urban Resilience Implementation: Aligning sustainability and resilience‘, organised by the Urban Resilience Research Network, the School of Architecture of UIC Barcelona and UNHabitat in December 2018 in Barcelona.

Urban resilience refers to the ability of an urban system- and all its constituent socio-ecological and socio-technical networks across temporal and spatial scales- to maintain or rapidly return to desired functions in the face of a disturbance, to adapt to change, and to quickly transform systems that limit current or future adaptive capacity.

Sarah Meerow, 2015

Why does reframing matter

Notwithstanding the uptake of resilience, many urban resilience initiatives fail take to into account the complexity and interrelation of their challenges through a systemic, long-term approach. In some cases, this has reinforced undesirable conditions by maintaining a status-quo with unsustainable patterns of developments.

Framing and defining the resilience framework is an important process for actors who seek to understand and act on complex situations. Frames define the scope and problem at issue, which stakeholders (agencies, sectors, scales and communities etc.) get activated and engaged, and which are left out, and whether popular support can be mobilized or not. Fuzziness of the resilience concept can also lead to implementation challenges, as the objective (bounce forward or back) and its relationship to sustainability remain unclear. (Meerow, 2015, 2016; Coaffee, 2018; Chelleri and Baravikova ). The application of global frameworks for disaster risk reduction (Sendai), climate change (Paris Agreement) and sustainable development (Agenda 2030), also requires a reframing of urban resilience with a closer look at issues such as inequality and inclusion.

Where do we start
The conference provided an opportunity for resilience scholars to convene and discuss and potential improvements for the application of the resilience framework. With a focus on the “soft” aspects of urban resilience, the conference looked at four complementary angles:
TOPIC 1: Climate Resilience Governance and Planning
How can a reframing of the concept engender more inclusive governance and planning modalities? How can local knowledge be appropriately included?  And how can all segments of society, including the vulnerable and marginalized be engaged and served so no one is left behind? Do we all have the same vision? Are we all looking sufficiently far ahead?
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TOPIC 2: Urban Design and Management
How are we managing urban growth? How can we look beyond the conventional, technocratic focus on the built environment for resilience? How can green infrastructure and nature-based solutions be integrated into resilience projects without driving gentrification?
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TOPIC 3: Community Resilience
Do we pay attention for whom we are building resilience, and who is left behind? Are we considering issues of inequality? How can communities become more resilient, self-reliant? How can we promote decentralization of resilience? How can we avoid unintended consequences? Promote inclusive, participatory approaches?
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TOPIC 4: Post-Conflict and Disaster Resilience
Are we bouncing back or forward? Can we expand our disaster risk reduction approach from prevention to include adaptive capacities and managing the consequences?  What are the opportunities for transformational change post-disaster? Can these opportunities be anticipated? How can we ensure that social and environmental aspects considered?
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Where do we go now

Responding to these challenges, as Meerow states, requires an integrated framework that incorporates sustainability, social-environmental-technological factors and deals with interactions, capacities, vulnerabilities and time periods. …(…) the framework of urban resilience should therefore be related to wider sustainability challenges, including (a) climate change and natural hazard threats, (b) unsustainable urban metabolism patterns and (c) increasing social inequalities in cities.” (Chelleri, Waters, & Olazabal 2015).

The research introduced at the IFOU conference offered compelling reasons for re-framing the resilience framework to better address the complex problems of the 21st century. It highlighted the importance to ask how resilience interventions impact the most vulnerable segments of societies and how it relates to sustainable development. Thus, there is a need for reframing resilience through more inclusive engagement in the formal governance, planning and implementation system. Moreover, it is important to incorporate values into urban planning that go beyond mere economic growth and financial objectives, and rethink the relationship to environmental, civic and social infrastructures to pursue sustainable resilience for all.

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