Urban Resilience

These days, I spend a lot of time thinking about cities and synergies. I believe that the very basic components of urban sustainability–and education about it–must be grounded in showing linkages between concurrent, parallel,and  symbiotic processes.  We can not talk about anything ecological without discussing the economic or equity component to it. Clearly I’m not the only one thinking about this stuff.

Resilience. via: http://maryjaneryan.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/resilience.jpg

SEED Magazine has an excellent article on urban resilience. Its header reads: Merging complex systems science and ecology, resilience scientists have broken new ground on understanding—and preserving—natural ecosystems. Now, as more and more people move into urban hubs, they are bringing this novel science to the city.

Discussing examples that range from the loss of wetlands around New Orleans–that ironically were destroyed during the construction of the levees as well as natural gas exploration–that ultimately helped contribute to the tragedy of Katrina’s effect, to the spoiling of 25 million liters of raw milk in Australia when natural gas power supply was knocked out, the article discusses the concept of resilience on an urban scale. And while of course there are parallels between ecosystem design and urban design, the fundamental basis of resilience is diversity, redundancy, and variety. These things are often seen as “inefficient” on an urban scale.

This might seem theory heavy to you, but it really was one of the most fascinating articles I have read in a long time. And real life applications–contemporary and existent–examples are used for every sub-heading. So, yes, while there are lofty concepts, the reality of our urban world is the basis for discussion.

And of course the question of climate change is never far removed. A brief excerpt reads:

“A key feature of complex adaptive systems is that they can settle into a number of different equilibria. A lake, for example, will stabilize in either an oxygen-rich, clear state or algae-dominated, murky one. A financial market can float on a housing bubble or settle into a basin of recession. Historically, we’ve tended to view the transition between such states as gradual. But there is increasing evidence that systems often don’t respond to change that way: The clear lake seems hardly affected by fertilizer runoff until a critical threshold is passed, at which point the water abruptly goes turbid.

Resilience science focuses on these sorts of tipping points. It looks at gradual stresses, such as climate change, as well as chance events—things like storms, fires, even stock market crashes—that can tip a system into another equilibrium state from which it is difficult, if not impossible, to recover. How much shock can a system absorb before it transforms into something fundamentally different? That, in a nutshell, is the essence of resilience.”

Take time to read this article. I promise you will be thinking about synergies afterward as well.


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