Monday, February 22, 2010

Urban resilience

How resilient are cities? And what is resilience?

Written by Fredrik Moberg 

How can urbanization be directed so that cities can function as generators of innovation, and core contributors to future sustainability? The answer may very well be spelled “resilience”, claims a new article in SEED Magazine.

After Hurricane Katrina coastal restoration has emerged as a top priority both in New Orleans and at national level in the US. Researchers have calculated that restoring 1 kilometer of wetland would reduce the wave height during a hurricane by one meter, and now efforts are underway to begin rebuilding the southern Louisiana coastline. Likewise, New York City has decided to plant one million new trees as these will have a cooling, shading effect, will reduce air pollution, and will sequester megatons of carbon from the atmosphere. Moreover, a recent study found that tripling the number of street trees could reduce asthma among children by 25 percent. These are two examples of how cities around the world can become more resilient, put forward in an interesting article on the website of the bimonthly science magazine SEED.

The article defines resilience as "How much shock can a system absorb before it transforms into something fundamentally different?". It then describes resilience theory as based on two radical premises: (1) Humans and nature are strongly coupled and co-evolving, and should therefore be conceived of as one “social-ecological” system; (2) The long-held assumption that systems respond to change in a linear, predictable fashion is simply wrong. "According to resilience thinking, systems are in constant flux; they are highly unpredictable and self-organizing, with feedbacks across time and space. In the jargon of theorists, they are complex adaptive systems, exhibiting the hallmarks of complexity".

In the article, Professor Thomas Elmqvist of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, talks about several new initiatives taken by his research group in urban ecology, including a Social-Ecological Urban Atlas website and a 12-city urban research network that will both be showcased during the World Expo in Shanghai later this year.

– We are going into a very interesting new era when it comes to global governance. We will have nation states, but we will also have very powerful cities raising their voices about the future and the nature of sustainable development, Elmqvist says.

By 2030, the planet’s current 2.9 billion urban residents will rise to a staggering 5 billion, according to UN estimates. By 2050, humanity may well be 80 percent urban. The key question now, according to the SEED magazine article, is how urbanization can be directed so that cities can be harnessed as generators of innovation, and core contributors to future sustainability: “As scientists make headway on these macro-issues, can they develop tools to help decision-makers build for social, economic, and ecological resilience?”

More at:
 Seed Magazine on Urban Resilience by Garry Peterson

Urban resilience

The Urban Resilience program will focus research on the major challenges facing urban systems and the landscapes they comprise. The same questions arise for urban as for regional social-ecological systems: how much and which kinds of disturbances can urban areas absorb without shifting to alternative less desirable system regimes?
The Research Prospectus (available for download below) provides a framework for science organization and delivery that will help the RA connect with other research groups, as well as provide a platform for engaging with related global initiatives.
The first phase of research, to be undertaken over the next 3-5 years, will develop and explore a set of robust propositions or working hypotheses about the dynamics and resilience of urban systems and their landscapes. Organised around four key themes of inquiry - (1) metabolic flows, (2) social dynamics, (3) governance networks, and (4) built environment - this research will be grounded in a select set of comparative urban case studies. It will be led by an established network of urban researchers from CSIRO, Australia, Arizona State University, USA, and Stockholm University, Sweden.
What this work aims to provide is a multi-level understanding of the resilience of urban systems which recognises the role of metabolic flows in sustaining urban functions, human well-being and quality of life; governance networks and the ability of society to learn, adapt and reorganise to meet urban challenges; and the social dynamics of people as citizens, members of communities, users of services, consumers of products, etc, and their relationship with the built environment which defines the physical patterns of urban form and their spatial relations and interconnections
To learn more about the Urban Resilience program please download the prospectus below.

Urban Resilience Research Prospectus (475 KB)
CSIRO, Australia; Arizona State University, USA; Stockholm University, Sweden   download...

Resilience Assessment

See also the Workbook Wiki for the latest new modules:

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Assessing and Managing Resilience in Social-Ecological Systems: A Practitioner's Workbook

New Modules:
Specified and General Resilience (Section 1.5, by Brian Walker)
Social Networks among Stakeholders (Section 4.2 , by Orjan Bodin & Beatrice Crona)

The workbook wiki is based on Version 1.0 of the Practitioner's workbook "Assessing and Managing Resilience in Social-Ecological Systems". The workbook is structured around a set of key concepts that underly resilience thinking and provide a framework for assessing the resilience of natural resource systems. Each concept is explained by way of an example and a summary list of key messages, which is followed by a set of activities designed to help users explore system parameters and management options for their own system of interest from a resilience perspective.

There are five main sections to the workbook:
1: Resilience of What, to What?
2: Assessing Alternate States and Thresholds
3: Assessing Cycles of Change
4: Adaptability and Transformative Change
5: Next Steps: Interventions

Please keep the feedback coming:

Stockholm Resilience Centre

What is resilience?
Resilience is the capacity to deal with change and continue to develop. 
Resilience refers to the capacity of a social-ecological system both to withstand perturbations from for instance climate or economic shocks and to rebuild and renew itself afterwards. 

Loss of resilience can cause loss of valuable ecosystem services, and may even lead to rapid transitions or shifts into qualitatively different situations and configurations, evident in, for instance people, ecosystems, knowledge systems, or whole cultures.

The resilience lens provides a new framework for analyzing social—ecological systems in a changing world facing many uncertainties and challenges. It represents an area of explorative research under rapid development with major policy implications for sustainable development.

Why resilience?

Sometimes change is gradual and things move forward in roughly continuous and predictable ways. At other times, change is sudden, disorganizing and turbulent reflected in climate impacts, earth system science challenges and vulnerable regions. Evidence points to a situation where periods of such abrupt change are likely to increase in frequency and magnitude. This challenges the adaptive capacity of societies.
The resilience approach focuses on the dynamic interplay between periods of gradual and sudden change and how to adapt to and shape change.

Research at the Stockholm Resilience Centre will address these challenges in order to generate a deeper understanding of interdependent social-ecological systems for improved governance and policy.

Useful links