Picturing urban resilience seen from the citizen point of view

My work should be seen as an experimental attempt using photography as a pedagogic tool to better inform non-expert citizens on the meaning of urban resilience. This work is based on a photographic technique I have developed using the special features of argentic photographic paper. Pictures will evolve in time according to their light exposure, recalling one of the fundamentals of urban resilience: moving from one state of balance to another one depending on a hazard occurrence (symbolized by the light in my work). As a non-expert citizen myself, I have the easy part: underscoring the questioning raised by urban resilience through my pictures. I leave to experts the difficult task to provide answers, assuming that there are answers, which might not be 100 % sure in all cases.

It seems that there is a huge ambiguity on the definition of urban resilience. In 2015, Sara Meerow (1), University of Michigan, found 25 different definitions of urban resilience, all of them published by editors of “recognized” journals. None of them appeared satisfactory. Sara Meerow gave the 26th. Where is the ambiguity coming from? At the end, there is no definition needed if we do not agree on the prerequisites and on the ultimate objective backing the concept.

The prerequisites have been recalled many times by different authors: We cannot separate people of their urban environment as both of them belong to the same process: the urban way of life. Understanding this prerequisite is key as it enables to understand how our contemporary thinking can articulate the relations between people and their environment, the latter word understood as the space, the location, the networks and their functions. An urban space is a territory where different balances of powers are potentially conflictual one to each other as they do not have the same priorities (economical, sociological, ecological, etc…). Urban resilience is located at the interface of those different forces in order to regulate them.(2)

And this with a one and unique objective: The well-being and well-living of people together.(3)(4)

But as important as the prerequisites and the objective, the philosophy behind urban resilience is key. Nothing is certain and everything can be potentially reconsidered. This leads me to approach the questionings on which I am working with humility. This work do not pretend to be anything else than a contribution to a question raised at a defined moment. As such, my work is essentially ephemeral.

The framework of my photographs underscores the assumption that an urban space is resilient when it can integrate hazards without compromising its operations. Did the state of balance post hazard change compared to the one that prevailed prior the hazard? There are obviously a lot of debates on the topic and my work underlines the problematic. How is urban resilience related to sustainability? On which scale of time and space? What are the expected consequences of challenging basic principles as for example flooding protection? Is vulnerability really opposed to resilience?

To ease the working process, I have considered the three main dimensions on which urban resilience may impact urban citizen lives, though such breaking down is somewhat questionable:

And I have tried to keep in mind the following guidelines:

Yky, yky@resi-city.com, January 2018.

(1) S. Meerow & al, Defining urban resilience: A review, Elsevier, 2015

(2) C. Lopez, 2008, C. Villar-M. David, 2014

(3) Human and social properties make cities resilient over time / Chelleri-2012

(4) “Cities are not only the places in which we live and work and play, but also a demonstration of our ultimate faith in the human project, and in each other”, concluding and last sentence of The Resilient City, LJ Vale & TJ Campanella, 2005