Urban resilience seen from the citizen point of view

This blog is aimed at proposing a gateway where everyone showing interest in urban resilience is welcome to comment. It should be seen as an opened platform for discussion but limited to relevant topics. It will be updated on a non-regular basis, depending on reactions, comments, and my own work for which no regular publication is guaranteed. This work makes use of photographic material to underline the questioning raised by urban resilience. As a non-expert, I have the easy part: asking questions.  l leave to experts the difficult task to provide answers, assuming that there are answers, which might not be 100 % sure. The topics I question are diversely sourced: publications, exhibitions, articles… All ideas, research, publications related to urban resilience which could be workable (see below …), are welcome. Do not hesitate to send them.

It seems that there is a huge ambiguity on the definition of urban resilience. Sara Meerow, University of Michigan, has done a tremendous job in 2015 (1). She found 25 different definitions of urban resilience, all of them published by “recognized” editors. And the nice thing is that none of them appeared satisfactory. Sara Meerow gave the 26th. This was about 2 years ago. Do not expect me to give the 27th… Where is the ambiguity coming from? It seems sometimes that experts have difficulties to make the difference between a definition and a description. 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, it seems to me that the philosophy behind urban resilience is something we should always have in mind. Nothing is certain and everything can be potentially reconsidered, including so called “basic requirements”. Isn’t the whole difference between “urban risk management” and “urban resilience”? This leads me to approach the questionings on which I am working with humility. This work has no objective nor witness value. It is purely subjective and do not pretend to be anything else than a question raised at a defined moment. As such, my work is essentially ephemeral.

The framework of the photographic work you will find in the coming weeks is based on 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 problematics. 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 in the case of refugees’ immigration?

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

  • The sociological dimension

  • The environmental dimension

  • The architectural dimension

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

  • What is the hazard we are talking about?

  • Is the state of balance that prevailed before the perturbation still unchanged?

  • How manageable is the assumed level of resilience, referring to what C. Folke wrote in 2002 about the management of resilience “to enhance the likelihood of sustainability in a changing world where surprise is likely”

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

(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 times / 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

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