Picturing urban resilience


My photographic work should be seen as an experimental attempt showing that photography may be used as a pedagogic tool to better inform non-expert citizens on the meaning of urban resilience. This work is based on a technique using the special features of argentic photographic paper. Pictures will darken in time according to their light exposure, as a metaphoric translation of one of the fundamentals of urban resilience: moving from one state of balance to another one in response to an hazard occurrence. Each work prioritizes the sociological, environmental or urbanistic dimension of urban resilience. Reflecting the complexity of our urban lives, the three are intertwined and address the issues of hazard, vulnerability and disaster.

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. Can we bounce forward after a disaster when everything condemns us to bounce back? How is urban resilience related to sustainability? Is vulnerability really opposed to resilience? At the same time, there is a huge ambiguity on the definition of urban resilience. In 2015, Sara Meerow (1), University of Michigan, reviewed 25 different definitions of urban resilience. 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 the prerequisites is key as it enables to understand how our contemporary thinking can articulate the relations between people and their environment. 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. 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 wellbeing and well-living of people together.(3)(4). As important as the prerequisites and the objective, the philosophy framing the concept is crucial: the capability to “think resilient”. Nothing can be taken as granted, referring to what C. Folke (5) wrote in 2002 about “the likelihood of sustainability in a changing world where surprise is likely”.

All works are arranged chronologically. Next to the tab “photographic works”, “urban moments” is a series of pictures where the aesthetic sense prevails over pedagogy. Still, the relation with urban resilience is assertive, be it through the chosen theme, the intrinsic sense of the shooting and the diptych approach. Both “photographic works” and “urban moments” should be seen complementary one to the other, balancing objective and subjective considerations.

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

(5) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13280-020-01487-6