Event paper Deposited for RESILIENCE, in Abstracts

(October 2012) Top-down resilience: Where should cities target their efforts? Planning for adaptive capacity

Top-down resilience: Where should cities target their efforts? Planning for adaptive capacity image


The term ‘social-ecological system' is increasingly applied to cities and urban regions (Alessa et al. 2009; Coelho & Ruth 2006; Resilience Alliance 2007). In this context, resilience is defined as the
ability of the social-ecological system to continue to provide for human needs without transforming into another state. However, Holling (2003) argues that while crises and vulnerability can lead to learning and expensive actions to reverse past mistakes in richer regions of the world, in poorer regions these only lead to further impoverishment and dislocation. Building resilience requires radical new approaches to development that depends on people's inventiveness and the transformation of strategic goals rather than on money (ibid).

Simultaneously, there are calls for adaptive
governance and adaptive management of social-ecological systems for resilience and
sustainability (Walker et al. 2004; Holling 1996; Folke et al. 2010).
Institutional change and communicative planning are proposed as tools for
bringing the "adaptive" to existing governance and management practices
(Goldstein 2009; Walker et al. 2004). However, applying these lessons to cities
presents considerable challenges in achieving consensus on ‘desirable states'
and redefining governance regimes (Walker et al. 2004; Wilkinson 2011).

The Paradox

On the one hand, resilience authors imply that resilience
involves building adaptability (capacity to manage change) at multiple levels
and especially at the lower levels. On the other, most decision-making in
cities remains top-down, expert-led and focussed on fixed scenarios. In view of
this large gap between resilience and urban development practice, one might
ask: where should cities target their efforts in building urban resilience? Are
current planning approaches capable of providing to cities the resilience they
seek, and to what extent do they meet the requirements of the "adaptability"
agenda in resilience theory? What is the role of deliberative planning
approaches in the quest for urban resilience?


Using current debates in planning practice and
resilience theory, the paper will explore the synergies and conflicts between strategic planning, deliberative planning, and resilience. It will use case-studies to identify the conditions under which strategic or deliberative planning approaches can succeed in bringing about transformative change for resilience. It will assess whether these conditions were conducive to enhancing "adaptability", whether this was achieved, and if so, the levels at which it was achieved.


This research will provide an exploration of the
extent to which urban resilience can be top-down, and the circumstances under which deliberative planning and/or capacity building can provide a basis for resilient cities. It will also contribute to the efforts of social-ecological resilience researchers and planners to find common ground to bring resilience thinking to urban development discourse and practice. Importantly, this exercise helps move away from dominant discourses of resilience as disaster-mitigation and control, towards resilience as adaptive governance and a means to long-term sustainability.