Many commonly think of resilience as strictly pertaining to science or emergency management. But in the era of openness and collaboration, resilience is also increasingly understood as having neighbours to count on a responsive governance framework to rely on, and spaces in which to come together during a time of need.
Whether a city is resilient or brittle is an indicator of a history of past policy - and decision-making. A thriving, resilient city is one where infrastructure, physical assets and amenities are deployed to meet the needs of all – especially vulnerable populations – and where opportunities are equally distributed in a way that does not degrade the environment.
Systems and social agents play an important role in this process. Systems include the natural environment, the physical infrastructure, the social institutions and local knowledge of a place. Agents are actors like individuals, households, private firms, and civil society organizations that shape it.
A truly comprehensive resilience strategy, then, is one that employs a collaborative approach that harnesses and supports the strengths of both.
Most blueprints for resilience planning suggest that cities are uniquely positioned to respond to the interconnected challenges of our time. Municipalities are the level of government closest to residents, and can therefore act as mediator between local needs and national resources. The urban scale also presents inherent advantages in terms of density, connectivity and infrastructure efficiency that allow urban actors to innovate, achieve more networked governance, and centralize the use of resources. A call for “re-localization” of ecosystems and economies is therefore made in order to decrease regional dependence of imported resources and encourage a shift to more humanly manageable, place-based scales.
Locally, a fast-growing number community-driven efforts are leading this powerful transition. Examples include initiatives like Toronto’s Project Neutral and Transition Towns, the global movement that works with communities and municipalities to address the challenges of peak oil and climate change through re-localization strategies (see Volume 1.). They extend to the launch of Mosaic, a crowdfunding platform for investing in renewable energy sources; Seattle’s Food Forest, and Depave, a collaborative effort to remove unnecessary pavement from urban areas and increase the amount of land available for habitat restoration.
Combined, these initiatives represent what researchers Ron Eyerman and Andrew Jamison call ‘‘temporary public spaces”, social movements of collective creation that provide society with ideas, identities, and even ideals to collectively explore narratives of innovative adaptation.
If our identities are anchored and in part informed by the landscapes surrounding us, then it is true that a warming planet changes not only our ecosystems, but our collective stories. Many are the cultural rituals connected, for example, to the change of season; countless the predictions that are made on a daily basis in relation to the weather and other natural conditions. For communities to have a sense of control and ownership over this change, the commons become the avenue through which to pool resources and resourcefulness together, in which to build consensus and facilitate decision-making, and in which to embed participation and transparency into the everyday norms that will inform the future responses of cities.
Resilience is important in the context of advancing social innovation because it makes explicit what many know intuitively: that inequality in one neighbourhood affects the city as a whole; that poverty and concentrations of wealth make cities brittle. Community-led adaptation includes not only a process of self-management, then, but also the technical, civic, and creative support for citizens to engage with (and re-design) government processes directly.
Chiara Camponeschi is the founder of EnablingCity.com, a website that, like Cities For People, aims to creatively respond to today’s most pressing issues by harnessing community imagination as a tool of social transformation. Connect with her @Enablingcity via Twitter.