From government to governance: a dilemma for urban resilience

The way a resilient space may reach its state of balance is thoroughly described in the literature. Whether referring to the very first assumptions of Holling in 1973 (1) of“engineering” and “ecological” resilience or to the idea that complex systems are constantly changing, thereby having no requirement for a stable equilibrium, the key words are always the same:ability to change, ability to adapt, ability to transform. Most of those assumptions which have been detailed by many authors are not easily transferable to the sociological dimension of urban resilience. Stresses, hazards and disturbances generate here social disorders which are closely linked to both cultural capital and “education”.  Though social and environmental resilience are often interconnected, the time scale needed to overcome social disturbances may fundamentally differ, raising the issue of the means enabling to reach the ultimate objective we should have in mind: the well-being and well living of people together    

 At this stage, a key question is the role that regulatory bodies should play. In a paper published in 2010 by the Stockholm Resilience Center, C. Wilkinson & Al describe three ways enabling metropolitan planners to “think resilient”. One of them questions the so called “government” (top-down control) and “governance”(bottom-up initiatives) models (2). AE Buys & Al (3) introduce the concept of mosaic governance to improve urban green infrastructure resilience, advocating for the recognition of governance that is sensitive to the diversity and dynamics of active citizenship aligning with local networks and across scales. With hardly any place devoted to a centralized top-down contribution.

How and to which extent the legislator should commit to improve urban resilience may lead to a more fundamental choice.Indeed, it could be argued that possible institutions withdrawal would aim at saving public costs, and by doing so, limiting their role and transferring their responsibility to private sector and/or associations. As underlined by M.Toubin & Al (4), this could wrongly legitimize deficient urban projects needing some technical back-up that could only be provided by public services.

Which balance should we aim for, between bottom-up and top-down approach? What should be the commitment level of our institutions and regulation bodies? Should citizens make their own destiny through local resilient implementations? In other words what should remain in our hands, questions the below work?

Yky, December 2018,



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