The concept of urban resilience has gained increasing interest over the past two decades and can broadly be understood as the capacity of cities to bounce back or even bounce forward from a disturbance or crisis event, writes William Hynes, managing director, KPMG Future Analytics.

There remains ongoing debate around how the concept can be operationalised within urban planning policy and practice. There is ongoing development of approaches, methods and tools to equip the many urban disciplines and professions to ensure the continued enhancement of resilience of existing and future urban development infrastructures and projects. To date, the widespread development and optimisation of such, and subsequent exploitation of such functions, have been relatively limited in practice. 

Responding to continuous global city growth

The rapid expansion of cities is exposing a larger number of people and critical infrastructures to the threat of disasters and crisis events and poses additional challenges for the design, planning and management of urban areas. Indeed, the very features that make cities feasible and desirable (their architectural structures, population concentrations, places of assembly, and interconnected infrastructure systems) also put them at high risk. Within this context, the enhancement of urban resilience has become far more urgent, necessitating more innovative and integrated approaches to urban planning and development. Indeed, international agreements on global agendas, such as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, all call for resilience. Urban decision makers need guidance and support within continuous city growth. 

Urban resilience: the emerging challenge

The capacity of cities to mitigate, prepare, respond or recover from these challenges, and how such capacities can be enhanced, has become a critical urban policy question. Building resilience often requires an enhancement of urban planning and design techniques in order to make cities and associated critical infrastructure more resistant to threats and shocks. Urban planning has long had a role in securing cities against these, however, to date many urban interventions have tended to be focused on particular buildings, structures or local areas in a relatively fragmented way. An integrated and holistic approach to resilience is especially important due to the increasing system complexities and interdependencies associated with urban growth and critical infrastructures, where the cascading effects could significantly affect citizen wellbeing, economic development and environmental quality. Indeed, urban resilience must be seen as a collective responsibility, one which is most effective when it involves a mutual and accountable network of civic institutions, agencies and individual citizens working in partnership towards common goals within a common strategy. Urban resilience can thus shape the way we perceive challenges cities face, as well as provide a framework by which to respond. 

Establishing the state of the art

The emergence of approaches and practices of resilience has enabled the debate on adaptability to gain pace and forge a stronger understanding and relationship between resilience and risk management, with a number of emerging perspectives developing regarding resilience as a goal of risk management, a part of risk management, an extension of risk management and an alternative to risk management. Moving forward, a number of key resilience pillars or requirements are identified such as: a greater requirement for foresight and preparedness; a requirement to consider multiple risks and hazards in a holistic manner and a need for integrated governance of the response. These pillars can be brought together by a range of stakeholders, at multiple scales, to pursue resiliency objectives within urban policy and practice. However, in seeking to implement or address the requirements above, it is necessary to develop a more comprehensive understanding of national policies and associated responsibilities for dealing with issues challenges across Europe and globally. 

This article first appeared in Eolas magazine and is reproduced here with their kind permission.

Get in touch

If you have any queries about urban resilience and the issues outlined above, please contact William Hynes of our Future Analytics team.

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