Is urban planning the right tool to improve Urban Resilience?

In 2017, seventeen renowned experts gathered together to brainstorm about the expected conditions to develop urban planning into a large-scale and transformative tool (1). The title of the article, Conceptualizing Dimensions and Characteristics of Urban Resilience: Insights from a Co-Design Process, though conceptual, should not hinder anyone having interest in the complex process of implementing resilience to read the conclusions of the group. As one member said, planning is a form of storytelling and requires a persuasive narrative. Indeed, urban planning can be seen as the transmission belt conveying the decisions taken at a multi-stake level towards urban citizens. And good common sense enables to understand quickly that if urban planning is handled through a traditional risk management approach, the “well-living” and “well-being” improvement we are aiming at could be limited. As stated by the group, major divisions exist in viewing resilience as an action in response to identified risks and viewing resilience through a systemic evolutionary lens as a self-organization process. These differences and inconsistencies may render the concept unsuitable for framing and operationalizing planning and policy agendas.

Amongst the different issues addressed in this article, one has been recalled by many authors. How can we find the right balance between a formal top-down risk management and a bottom-up “non-Euclidian” mode of thinking, while in the same time applying the right methodology to prioritize actions. On one side the recovery, on the other the adaptation? Two different approaches? Or two different mindsets as well?  But is the opposition really appropriate? The stakes are high: lives of people are threatened during natural disruptions. And as recalled by M. Toubin & Al (2), urban technical networks (water, energy, transportation, communication) are interconnected and managed by centralized administrations.

Urban resilience is not only a complex concept on a global scale, it also reflects the growing social and cultural diversity of our own organizations. It recalls us the constraints of urban frameworks while, in the same time, a commitment to reconsider with an open mind the management of threats and challenges.

In the below work, the geometrical abstraction inspired by the artist F. Morellet (3) is used to question the relation between objective technical constraints, subjectivity and ephemerality (*) .It here provides the matrix symbolizing the urban grid recurrently used in this blog. F. Morellet aimed at embodying mathematical rules to better circumvent them. “I have always been passionate about bringing order and disorder together, either the order producing or perturbing disorder, or the other way round”. Food for thoughts for urban resilience?

Yky,, April 2018

(*) Ephemerality should here be understood as the ability to incorporate an apparent paradox: to propose new impulses acknowledging the fact that their outcomes are not aimed to last. The awareness of ephemerality, confronted with the urban frame deployment and its technical constraints, can initiate new dynamics. When urban planning is disturbed by any unexpected event, whatever the cause, ephemeral initiatives may generate an inflection point which, paradoxically, allows a better hazard management embodying the means needed to improve resilience. Thereby, the time-scale inconsistency will contribute to the urban space consistency. (A post dedicated to the concept of ephemerality and urban resilience is on its way …)






3 comments on Is urban planning the right tool to improve Urban Resilience?

  1. A city without a state, that is without a social organization and without a central administrative structure does not exist: these were the origins, we could not think of the ancient cities without a will of urban and territorial planning implicit in the government..
    Despite the antiquity of planning, the scientific process of knowledge has had a long and difficult path, within which even today controversies and above all ideological contrasts can explode. Urban and regional planning is not yet out of the narrative phase, which contrasts magicians and alchemists, who never submit their hypotheses to verification.
    We can not introduce ourselves into that arena.
    It is necessary to construct a scientific hypothesis, study the impacts of the territorial organization according to verifiable procedures, follow protocols in the analysis, freeing scientific research from administrative practice. Funds and laboratories are needed, but above all a new inter-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary culture, capable of interacting, for example, with biology, geology, ecology and archeology.
    With the sciences that study the past we can work on the transformation of the Holocene to understand human impacts and to advance hypotheses about the future. The fields of study are among others forest fires, agricultural crops, numerous examples of social behavior that have caused general collapses, famines or wars aimed at controlling resources. Many are going through similar paths, but not many are trying to make planning a science that is independent of the urban planning techniques of public administrations.
    Only within this way of thinking can planning be able to offer options and criteria to verify its effectiveness, but also to study the efficiency of governance and land management structures. This means not only solving all the implications of Figure 3 (Ayyoob Sharifi et al. 2017) for resilience, but also the reciprocal relations with the ecological footprint and the reduction of social imbalances and consumption, with the strategic environmental assessment and the reduction and compensation of local and global environmental impacts, studying and sharing the use of protocols in order to compare events and actions occurred at different times or places.

  2. Thank you Luca for this extensive and valuable comment. I think I can see your point when you emphasize the need of an inter-disciplinary science independent of current techniques and administration. Indeed the challenge is huge when you consider the scope that urban resilience needs to cover to improve the city disruptions and malfunctions we are facing. All this speaks clearly to me. My optimistic side leads me to think (to hope ?) that this should not be contradictory with a bottom-up contribution. Ultimately, urban citizens will need to appropriate the process. There is probably a “vacuum” to be filled between those having the knowledge and urban citizens who can hardly grasp the concept. Filling it is not easy, but this remains our collective responsibility.

  3. Certainly there is a gap to be filled between those with knowledge and urban citizens who can hardly grasp the concept. The problem refers to vocational training, citizenship education (because citizenship must also refer to the environment) and to schools of all levels. Therefore, it certainly has both a political dimension and a civil dimension linked to participation.
    But there is another dimension of the problem concerning relations between states, because no country alone can solve the origin of the general question.

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