What is Urban Resilience?

Urban Resilience is described by 100 Resilient Cities 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.  Chronic stresses are stresses that weaken the fabric of a city on a daily or cyclical basis, these may include high unemployment, over-taxation, inefficient public transportation system, inability to maintain properties, etc.  Acute shocks are sudden, sharp events that threaten a city such as earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, disease outbreaks, terrorist attacks, etc.

Chronic Stress is detrimental to the built environment

The effects of chronic stresses on the built environment go unnoticed throughout our daily routines.  For example, a small leak at your window sill.  Overtime the wood sill will begin to decay, next water will begin to penetrate the wall cavity, saturating the drywall, insulation and will begin to create mold.  Eventually the entire wall will begin to de-laminate and the damage from the leaking window sill will cause a visible deformation on the interior or exterior of the wall.  Often times, our inclination is to repair the leak once the problem becomes extreme.  This process has been applied to every part of our daily life whether it is building maintenance, street repair, poverty in homes, global poverty, gradual property tax increase, I can go on and on.  Chronic stresses can be altered by the slightest improvement, often times the improvement will go unnoticed, but the impact can be tremendous.    

The Media loves Acute Shocks

The effects of acute shocks on the built environment are the publicized events everyone sees or hears about.  These events seem to be occurring more often, with greater impacts.  How do we prepare for acute shocks?  Do we create bomb shelters in schools like we did during World War II?  Do we build levees to protect from floods? Do we increase airport security to make it almost impossible to fly?  The built environment's preparation for acute shocks must have a holistic approach.  The holistic approach must be structured to protect our daily routines while providing protection against the unthinkable.  For example, the ground floor of buildings near flood zones should be programmed to withstand a flood.  This approach is not to discourage development along the floodplain, but to allow development with the understanding of builder's risk.

Resilience seems to be the next buzzword across the world.  The discussion of resilience includes both macro and micro discussion topics to overtake problems caused by both chronic stresses and acute shocks throughout the built environment. Over the course of the next couple weeks I will be expanding upon how we can improve the built environment to become a resilient community of the future.