What is Urban Resilience?

Cities face a growing range of adversities and challenges in the 21st century. From the effects of climate change to growing migrant populations to inadequate infrastructure to pandemics to cyber-attacks. Resilience is what helps cities adapt and transform in the face of these challenges, helping them to prepare for both the expected and the unexpected.

100RC defines urban resilience as “the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.”

Building urban resilience requires looking at a city holistically: understanding the systems that make up the city and the interdependencies and risks they may face. By strengthening the underlying fabric of a city and better understanding the potential shocks and stresses it may face, a city can improve its development trajectory and the well-being of its citizens.

CHRONIC STRESSES

Chronic stresses are slow moving disasters that weaken the fabric of a city. They include:

  • high unemployment
  • overtaxed or inefficient public transportation system
  • endemic violence
  • chronic food and water shortages

ACUTE SHOCKS

On the other hand, acute shocks are sudden, sharp events that threaten a city, including:

  • earthquakes
  • floods
  • disease outbreaks
  • terrorist attacks

Of course, the challenges cities face often aren’t a single shock or stress. Most cities face a combination of these challenges, which can contribute to further threatening a city’s resilience. A good example of this is Hurricane Katrina, which hit the southeastern U.S. in 2005 with devastating consequences. But it wasn’t Hurricane Katrina alone that led to such a crisis in the city of New Orleans. The storm’s impact was exacerbated by stresses like institutional racism, violence, divestment and aging infrastructure, poverty, lack of macroeconomic transformation, environmental degradation, and other chronic challenges. The compounding pressure of these unaddressed stresses undermined the city’s resilience and, when a terrible shock hit the city, it exposed and exacerbated these weaknesses—ultimately making it far more difficult for the city to bounce back.

Resilience Dividend

Applying a resilience lens leads to better designed projects and policies that address multiple challenges at one time, improving services and saving resources. This is known as the resilience dividend—the net social, economic and physical benefits achieved when designing initiatives and projects in a forward looking, risk aware, inclusive and integrated way.

To learn more about how building resilience helps cities become better in both good times and bad – for all citizens – review The Rockefeller Foundation’s work on the Resilience Dividend.

The City Resilience Framework

What are the characteristics and capacities of a city that can adapt and grow in the face of these challenges? What distinguishes a resilient city from one that collapses in the face of disruption and adversity?

The Rockefeller Foundation partnered with the global design firm Arup to answer those questions. Extensive research and evaluation of cities’ experiences around the world revealed a common set of factors and systems that enhance a city’s ability to survive, adapt, and grow in the face of adversity. The City Resilience Framework (CRF) is the product of that work. It is an invaluable lens to help understand the complexity of cities, and it identifies a series of drivers necessary for a city’s resilience.

The CRF describes the essential systems of a city in terms of four dimensions: Health & WellbeingEconomy & SocietyInfrastructure & Environment; and Leadership & Strategy.

Each dimension contains three “drivers,” which reflect the actions cities can take to improve their resilience. To learn more about a Dimension and its Drivers, click on a portion of the circle below.

We also recommend you read the full text describing the City Resilience Framework here, which includes more detail as well as case studies that apply these concepts to city examples. While the CRF isn’t a definition of urban resilience, it is a useful tool to help cities explore the strengths and weaknesses of its systems. 100RC uses several diagnostic tools based on the CRF in its work with cities to examine interdependencies and diagnose where to build their capacities.

EXPLORE THE CRF:

To learn more about a Dimension and its three Drivers, click on part of the circle.

Leadership & Strategy

Effective leadership, empowered stakeholders, and integrated planning.

Health & Wellbeing

The health & wellbeing of everyone living and working in the city.

Infrastructure & Environment

The way in which man-made & natural infrastructure provides critical services and protects urban citizens.

Economy & Society

The social & financial systems that enable urban populations to live peacefully, and act collectively.

Leadership & Strategy

The processes that promote effective leadership, inclusive decision-making, empowered stakeholders, and integrated planning

Promote Leadership and Effective Management

Encourage capable leadership and effective urban management within government and civil society, particularly during an emergency. This involves strong leadership, cross-sector communication, and evidenced-based decision-making.

Empower a Broad Range of Stakeholders

Ensure everybody is well informed, capable, and involved in their city. This includes access to information and education, communication between the government and public, knowledge transfer, and timely and appropriate monitoring.

Foster Long-Term and Integrated Planning

Align sectoral plans and individual projects with the city’s vision to be coordinated and appropriate to address the city’s needs. This includes city strategies and plans.

Health & Wellbeing

Everyone living and working in the city has access to what they need to survive and thrive.

Meets Basic Needs

Particularly in times of crisis, ensure that people have access the basic resources necessary to survive – food, water and sanitation, energy, and shelter.

Supports Livelihoods and Employment

Assist individuals to access diverse livelihood and employment opportunities, including access to business investment and social welfare. This includes skills and training, fair labor policy, and development and innovation.

Ensures Public Health Services

Provide access to effective public healthcare and emergency services to safeguard physical and mental health. This includes medical practitioners and plans, as well as clinics and ambulances.

Infrastructure & Environment

The man-made and natural systems that provide critical services, protect, and connect urban assets enabling the flow of goods, services, and knowledge.

Promote Cohesive and Engaged Communities

Create a sense of collective identity and mutual support. This includes building a sense of local identity, social networks, and safe space; promoting features of an inclusive local cultural heritage; and encouraging cultural diversity while promoting tolerance and a willingness to accept other cultures.

Ensure Social Stability, Security, and Justice

Ensure a comprehensive and inclusive approach to law enforcement and justice that fosters a stable, secure, and just society. This includes fair and transparent policing and deterrents to crime – specifically in times of crisis, as well as enforcement of laws such as codes and regulations.

Foster Economic Prosperity

Ensure the availability of funding and a vibrant economy as a result of diverse revenue streams, the ability to attract business investment, and contingency plans. This involves good governance, integration with the regional and global economy and measures to attract investment.

Economy & Society

The social & financial systems that enable urban populations to live peacefully, and act collectively.

Provide and Enhances Protective Natural and Man-Made Assets

Maintain protective natural and man-made assets that reduce the physical vulnerability of city systems. This includes natural systems like wetlands, mangroves and sand dunes or built infrastructure like sea walls or levees.

Ensure Continuity of Critical Services

Actively manage and enhance natural and man-made resources. This includes designing physical infrastructure such as roads and bridges to withstand floods so that people can evacuate, as well as ecosystem management for flood risk management. It also includes emergency response plans and contingency plans that may coordinate airports to function so that relief can be lifted in and out during a crisis.

Provide Reliable Communication and Mobility

Provide a free flow of people, information, and goods. This includes information and communication networks as well as physical movement through a multimodal transport system.

What Makes a City Resilient?

Characteristics of Resilient Systems

Finally, just understanding the systems of a city isn’t sufficient. In order to build a city’s resilience, those systems must be designed and functioning in a way that they can withstand, respond to, and adapt more readily to shocks and stresses. The CRF builds on decades of research on resilient systems, and identifies 7 characteristics that various city systems need.

  • Reflective

    using past experience to inform future decisions

    Reflectiveness and resourcefulness are about the ability to learn from the past and act in times of crisis.

    Individuals and institutions that are reflective use past experience to inform future decisions, and will modify standards and behaviors accordingly. For example, planning processes that are reflective are better able to respond to changing circumstances.

  • Resourceful

    recognizing alternative ways to use resources

    Reflectiveness and resourcefulness are about the ability to learn from the past and act in times of crisis.

    Resourceful people and institutions are able to recognize alternative ways to use resources at times of crisis in order to meet their needs or achieve their goals. For example, although households in cities in Chile’s Central Valley use water provided by municipal networks on a daily basis, the service is often interrupted after strong earthquakes. As a response, many households maintain wells to continue provision of water.

  • Inclusive

    prioritize broad consultation to create a sense of shared ownership in decision making

    Inclusive and integrated relate to the processes of good governance and effective leadership that ensure investments and actions are appropriate, address the needs of the most vulnerable and collectively create a resilient city – for everyone.

    Inclusive processes emphasize the need for broad consultation and ‘many seats at the table’ to create a sense of shared ownership or a joint vision to build city resilience. For example, early warning reach everyone at risk will enable people to protect themselves and minimize loss of life and property.

  • Integrated

    bring together a range of distinct systems and institutions

    Inclusive and integrated relate to the processes of good governance and effective leadership that ensure investments and actions are appropriate, address the needs of the most vulnerable and collectively create a resilient city – for everyone.

    Integrated processes bring together systems and institutions and can also catalyze additional benefits as resources are shared and actors are enabled to work together to achieve greater ends. For example, integrated city plans enable a city to deal with multidisciplinary issues like climate change, disaster risk reduction or emergency response through coordination.

  • Robust

    well-conceived, constructed, and managed systems

    Robustness, redundancy, and flexibility are qualities that help to conceive systems and assets that can withstand shocks and stresses as well as the willingness to use alternative strategies to facilitate rapid recovery.

    Robust design is well-conceived, constructed and managed and includes making provision to ensure failure is predictable, safe, and not disproportionate to the cause. For example, protective infrastructure that is robust will not fail catastrophically when design thresholds are exceeded.

  • Redundant

    spare capacity purposively created to accommodate disruption

    Robustness, redundancy, and flexibility are qualities that help to conceive systems and assets that can withstand shocks and stresses as well as the willingness to use alternative strategies to facilitate rapid recovery.

    Redundancy refers to spare capacity purposively created to accommodate disruption due to extreme pressures, surges in demand or an external event. It includes diversity where there are multiple ways to achieve a given need. For example, energy systems that incorporate redundancy provide multiple delivery pathways that can accommodate surges in demand or disruption to supply networks.

  • Flexible

    willingness, ability to adopt alternative strategies in response to changing circumstances

    Robustness, redundancy, and flexibility are qualities that help to conceive systems and assets that can withstand shocks and stresses as well as the willingness to use alternative strategies to facilitate rapid recovery.

    Flexibility refers to the willingness and ability to adopt alternative strategies in response to changing circumstances or sudden crises. Systems can be made more flexible through introducing new technologies or knowledge, including recognizing traditional practices. For example, in times of crisis, cities may redeploy public buses for emergency evacuations.

     

What We're Reading

Outside resources that inspire us and inform our work

The Dutch Have Solutions to Rising Seas. The World is Watching.

From The New York Times

Quarterly Resilience Scan

From The Overseas Development Institute

Inspiring Future Cities & Urban Services

From World Economic Forum

Investing in Urban Resilience

From World Bank