What is Resilience?
What is resilience and what does it mean for communities? The Rockefeller Foundation defines resilience as “the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.”
Image Credit: Diego Celis
In the 21st century, resilience has become an important concept for planners, designers, policy makers, and community advocates. The capacity communities have to respond to chronic stresses and acute shocks has ramifications for public health and safety, for quality of life, for economic well-being, and for social equity. Organizations such as the Rockefeller Foundation and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development have played a leading role in defining resilience and articulating ways in which planning, design, and policy can help prepare communities for global climate change and related environmental challenges such as sea level rise.
In the Rockefeller definition, acute shocks are sudden events such as hurricanes and floods. These can be catastrophic, taking lives and properties, causing billions of dollars in damage, and necessitating resource-intensive emergency response and recovery efforts that can drag on for years.
Chronic stresses include endemic violence, high rates of unemployment, failing infrastructure, pollution, and other conditions that weaken cities and make them more vulnerable. Communities that are chronically stressed are less able to respond to and recover from acute shocks.
A resilient community, a resilient city, is one where infrastructure networks, urban fabric, buildings, landscapes, institutions, and social networks are themselves resilient. They are robust, designed and managed to withstand shocks and stresses as well as the possibility of failure. They cultivate integration and redundancy, so that the systems and institutions work together to address issues that cross disciplinary boundaries, and so that there is spare capacity and mutual support during periods of disruption. Resilient systems and networks are also resourceful and flexible in response to changing conditions or sudden events. Operational regimes are reflective – that is, they learn from past experiences. And they are inclusive, so that investments and actions reflect the needs of everyone, and especially the most vulnerable.
To learn more about urban resilience, visit the 100 Resilient Cities website. And to learn more about the relationship between equity and resilience planning, take a look at this report from the NAACP.
When Hurricane Sandy made landfall in the northeast United States in October 2012, it devastated the region, killing at least 186 people, damaging or destroying more than 600,000 homes, and causing more than $65 billion in damages and economic losses. The aftermath demonstrated clearly the inadequacy of urban systems to contend with the tremendous forces of the hurricane’s winds, rainfall, and surge.
With climate change and sea level rise, severe storms are increasingly common – the frequency of heavy rain events and associated flooding seen in recent years across the United States can be partially attributed to climate change. Cities that have economically been in decline, like Bridgeport, are particularly vulnerable. Poorly maintained and inadequate water systems are more easily overwhelmed. Families struggling to make ends meet will have more difficulty preparing for and recovering from big storms. A storm like Sandy stresses poor communities disproportionately, and climate change and rising sea levels will only exact greater costs in the coming years, especially for those living in low-lying areas that are particularly exposed.
Here are some of the ways in which climate change and sea level rise are affecting the coastline:
Image Credit: Michelle Mcloughlin/Reuters
If sea levels rise 3’ feet in the next fifty years, storm surge that is 15’ today will be 18’. Streets that have not historically been affected by storm surge will see rising waters advance up into once dry areas, changing the shape of every coastline.
Changes in local weather conditions and advancing saltwater will alter relationships between nutrients, water, plants, and animals. Some species will migrate or die out, and others may encroach into new territory.
Climate and Weather
Warming oceans affect global weather patterns, such as the path of the jet stream. Warmer air also holds more water, which means that rainfall may come in greater volumes, and/or with greater frequency.
Buildings and Urban Systems
For coastal areas, rising seas can lead to higher groundwater levels and saltwater intrusion, which can compromise building foundations and aquifers. Heavier rainfall can overwhelm drains, gutters, and urban stormwater and sewer systems.
Making communities like Bridgeport stronger and more resilient is an important goal for policy makers, planners, utilities, institutions, businesses, and citizens engaged in long range planning. As cities and regions across the country adapt to changing conditions and environmental challenges, these actors are taking a variety of steps towards that goal.
The Rockefeller Foundation has been a key partner for HUD throughout Rebuild By Design, and has also initiated 100 Resilient Cities, a global effort to connect cities facing the physical, social, and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century. 100 Resilient Cities provides each participating city with dedicated capacity in the form of a Chief Resilience Officer, access to expert support and resources, and support for the development of a “resilience strategy” that complements and enriches traditional planning efforts. Examples of Resilience Strategies being developed as part of 100 Resilient Cities
The Nature Conservancy is an example of one of the many organizations that is working on understanding the impact of climate change and working with communities to plan for the future. In addition to leading Community Resilience Building Workshops, the Nature Conservancy created the Coastal Resilience Tool, which puts mapping of flooding scenarios from sea level rise and storm surge at the disposal of communities and decision-makers in Connecticut, Long Island, and New York City. The US Geological Survey’s Coastal Change Hazards Portal is another such tool, and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Coastal Hazards Mapping Tool provides related information and capabilities.
Coastal Adaptation Research and Policy
In 2015, the Nature Conservancy also produced a “Salt Marsh Advancement Zone Assessment of Bridgeport, Connecticut,” which is an example of the kinds of research into the specific impacts of climate change and sea level rise that are vital to understanding Bridgeport’s future. The Union of Concerned Scientists is another organization tackling the problem of climate change through research and advocacy. At the same time, entities such as the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation (at UCONN) brings together experts from the sciences, engineering, economics, political science, finance, and law to research and develop practical solutions to problems arising as a result of climate change. The Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection plays a critical role in shaping state-level policy related to the potential impacts of climate change, floodplain management, and natural resources management which in turn impacts
Salt Marsh Advancement Zone Assessment of Connecticut
Image Credit: The Nature Conservancy
Raised egress in Miami, FL
Image Credit: Miami Herald
Some communities are moving buildings and repopulating in safer areas in response to rising seas, recurring floods, or other forces. Other responses include elevating or hardening buildings.
Where flooding affects use of roadways, raising the road surface and/or adding stormwater retention features can help maintain use, even during heavy rains. This is important for emergency access and for reducing damages and business interruptions during and after storms. There are many examples of roadside bioswales around the country, and also a few examples of elevated streets.
Park land can be adapted to serve communities in ways other than recreation. Wetland parks can store and clean stormwater while providing habitats for many species. Even urban water plazas can serve the city as a place for stormwater. Jefferson Parish in Louisiana adapted the 35 acre Wally Pontiff Park to store stormwater from surrounding areas. The Water Square in Rotterdam is a famous example of a plaza and athletic courts in an urban area that serves the same purpose.
Adapting Energy Systems
Decentralized power generation (e.g. generators) is being used in many cities to ensure that there are sources of power even when the power grid is down, which is especially critical for emergency services. Renewable sources of energy — including wind, solar, geothermal — can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide more diversity in power sources. Microgrids and thermal loops are examples of district-level systems that can reduce waste, provide redundancy, and provide greater resilience for urban areas when regional power systems are threatened by storms and other events.
Adapting Coastlines and Waterways
Levees, floodwalls, pumps, closure structures, and other “structural” measures have always been part of the toolbox for engineers seeking to protect cities. Increasingly, engineers, designers, and planners are integrating structural and non-structural solutions that harness the power of natural processes. The goal is to make investments in infrastructure that provide in addition to reductions in flood risk and other forms of resilience, additional benefits in terms of ecology, recreation, aesthetics, and quality of life. These integrated strategies can also be more adaptable, which is especially critical in an era when conditions are changing rapidly.