Sustainability of cities is one of the main goals of this century, being today an historically critical point of the environmental and urban management. Often, to reach it, governments have exalted the implementation of resilience strategies, but having a confused idea about this concept.
The mainstream notion about resilience lacks considering communities as the trigger of municipal processes, specifically when talking about existent systems to be changed. Through different examples of bottom-up strategies, working on reinforcing social connections at a local level, it is possible to verify that create a resilient community is an essential step for making a regeneration process sustainable. The five presentations all point out a big general gap in the local management of risk factors. The usual underestimation of the potential of the sense of ‘we’ness’ in urban processes causes, nowadays, inefficient governance and is impeding the formation of a resilient society. As can be noticed with the different case studies, the importance of living being in a complex community is to be capable to trigger bottom-up problem-solving strategies. In this sense, the reframing of the concept itself of resilience seems to be the only solution to address the always more common hazards that threaten our cities. The current attitude to look at them from a simplistic infrastructural point of view – in a moment when our world seems to be facing the most dramatic consequences of the past practice – is causing the unsustainability of the urban future.
Corrine Cash talks about the notion of “Asset-Based Community Development” (ABCD), underling that the same asset – differently from the common thought – can be represented by any kind of people capability. With the aim of “building knowledge together”, an innovative interpretation of resilience is presented, which strives to foster collective organization for upgrading their local urban conditions. In particular, the speaker introduces the successful case study of Valenzuela (Manila, Philippines), where a group of people – living in an informal settlement – managed to build social resilience thanks to their ability to reinforce neighbourhood cohesion, pushed by communitarian goals. Having been threatened with eviction, in fact, they organized a community savings collection, which brought to the formalization of their district. Moreover, the creation of this social net strengthened their understanding of the public needs, deciding – with a participatory process – the demolition of their own house to construct better-planned, resilient infrastructures (the so-called “Re-blocking” intervention). The formation of partnerships was, therefor, the required mean to obtain the political consideration needed to make changes seeking to sustainability. Even so, the necessity of creating a network around the world, sharing this kind of experience, raises the question about the involvement of diverse people to replicate this practise in different contexts.
The approach of Shantanu Khandkar directly face the political aspect of the management of social resilience. Talking about the case study of Mumbai’s slums, where participatory processes are something new, still scarcely introduced in the urban routine, he investigates how the role of neighbours can play an active role in such a scenario. If just during the 1990s the possibility of rehabilitate informal settlements has been taken into consideration in India, the discussion about community engagement is, till now, open. In particular, one of the most significant argument is about the role of NGOs as mediators between the State and the population. In the analysed example, where the government seems to do nothing for trying to formalise the unsustainable situation, NGOs are the only one which could give a voice to marginalized communities. The difficulties in making this possible are, however, related both to the lack of capacities of the organizations, and the heterogeneity of the society. Resilience in Mumbai seems to be strictly wedded to this rigid top-down political construction, which hinder the spontaneous formation of social partnerships that, as demonstrated in few Indian examples (SPARC, NSDF, Mahila Milan), while claiming for basic rights, foster the sense of community from the bottom.
What Joshua Bolchover underlines with the presentation of his paper is the importance of social connections in an extreme environment, as can be seen in Mongolia, where he found his case study in the city of Ulaanbaatar. In a context of rigid winter temperature, rapid demographic increase, high pollution index and worrisome low density sprawl, the challenge of sustainability seems impossible to achieve. The governance strategy, in fact, has supported the purchase of big devalued lots by the inhabitants, promoting the “right to land”, without creating a proper infrastructure or public space between them. Maybe this could be also related to the vernacular architecture in Ulaanbaatar, characterized by the typology of the “ger”, which fosters the isolation of its inhabitants, avoiding the formation of a neighbourhood, and, consequently, a social sense. Taking into consideration this existent background, the project proposed, aiming to build capacities in the population to achieve a sustainable urban development, works with two main focuses. At a city level, making people acknowledged about the possibility of increasing land value by a more compact organization of their parcels and the creation of better infrastructure, collaborating with their neighbours; at a building level, improving the technology of traditional structures for a better quality of living.
“How people change cities? And how cities change people?” these are the two strong questions leading Hanna Ruszczyk’s arguments around the topic of gender in furthering resilience. Being city management a fluid matter, interesting people at different levels but requiring a holistic vision of the common goal, the term “community” seems too simplistic and reducing the complexity of society who has to be taken into account and involved in the urban process. The object of resilience studies should be, indeed, ‘we’ness as a more heterogeneous group of human beings, who must work together to face the hazards that they are exposed to. The speaker presented the case of Bharatpur, in Nepal, remarking that risk governance should be, and is often, decided at a local level. Here, women are certainly the less considered in the decision-making, and this represents the problem of the lack of a sense of ‘we’ness in the contemporary society. The consequences of this situation can be seen in the comparison between the informal and the formal administration of civic matters, where the latter lacks the ability to consider the needs of a consistent part of the inhabitants, creating conflicts and enhancing an unsustainable development. The reframing of urban resilience is necessary to understand the complexity of society and their needed engagement in addressing urban challenges.
The talk by Shelly Pottorf proposes an analysis of the relations between living systems and human beings, reflecting upon their own essence as yearning entities inserted in a “greater whole”. The main assumption regards regenerative development, considering necessary the change of the living being to help the modification of the bigger system. In this sense, self-actualization and the “greater whole” actualization are wedded together and co-related, meaning the existence of an indissoluble cause-effect bond linking them. If this is true, the participation of singularities in shaping the whole has to be the starting point of every successful governance. Hence, a big interrogative raises about the determination of boundaries in the system: “how big is ‘here’?”. The potentials given to the local identity when addressing a communitarian matter strictly depend on this question, whose relativity can be considered asking it to different people or authorities. So, the mission of political bodies is to think in this sense, understanding the boundaries of their systems, and catalysing communities to work as a “greater whole” to face transitions and change.