Urban resilience is generally defined as an urban hub’s capacity to adapt, survive, and thrive no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.

Chronic stresses include rapid population growth, climate change and rising social inequality. Acute shocks include floods, heatwaves and infrastructure emergencies. By preparing for both the chronic and the acute, a city is best placed to serve its citizens in good times and bad.

Countless examples in recent history have demonstrated the extent to which our cities remain vulnerable to the pressures of our changing world. Worryingly, this vulnerability could highlight a lack of resilience in our cities, threatening the productivity, prosperity and safety of vast human populations within them.

Many of us look to our government to bring about change and offer solutions to these issues – often through regulation and investment in large scale infrastructure programs designed to improve the robustness of our urban systems. However, the choices made within our industry; as builders, architects, designers, engineers and interior designers are unquestionably capable of re-shaping the face of resilience in our cities.

Perhaps it’s time we all start a conversation about the choices we make, and how they can contribute to improving the resilience of our urban hubs.

We all have a role to play

A recent article in The Conversation discussed the many confusing and single-minded definitions of what makes a good city. From liveability indexes, to measurements of sustainability and equity, it’s clearly difficult to determine a single set of measures by which we define a successful city.

In July this year, more than 500 urban resilience professionals met to explore new approaches to some of the 21st century’s most significant urban challenges. Following the summit, Dr. Rajiv J Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, suggested ‘collaboration’ was one three vital concepts that would help the foundation continue to solve the world’s biggest problems in the years to come.

With that ethos in mind, it’s important we all contribute to this conversation of urban resilience; bringing to the fore our own unique expertise and definitions of success.

Building resilience

From my experience, resilience isn’t something that’s achieved overnight. It’s built – literally – one project at a time. Whilst long term objectives are important, affordable, scalable and replicable actions are within our reach.

Recent advancements in facility technology have significantly increased the capacity for buildings to become self-sufficient. Reducing a facility’s reliance on the broader systems of a city allows our buildings to become a conduit to unlocking the benefits of resilience for its citizens. For those working, living and socialising within their walls, these facilities can offer safer environments and a stable supply of important resources like water, energy and connectivity.

100 Resilient Cities is an organisation, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, which assists in developing city-wide strategies for improving resilience in our major urban hubs around the world. When looking through the many city plans published online, it seems clear that maintaining a stable supply of energy is one critical component to achieving resilience – one which I can contribute towards in my day-to-day work.

For example, the plan for the improving the resilience of New York City included a strong focus on improving the energy efficiency and grid-independence of their buildings. Thanks to modern improvements in power monitoring, on-site generation, storage and energy efficiency, our buildings now have the capacity to significantly reduce their grid reliance.

This change has subsequently improved the resilience of New York itself. As NYC becomes home to more resilient buildings, its citizens will continue to benefit from the flow on effects of a more stable environment.

In Australia, my home city of Melbourne was the first to be accepted into 100 Resilient Cities. Whilst there is recognition that reaching some of the objectives will take decades, many achievable and extremely practical projects are underway. These include urban greening, metropolitan renewable energy procurement, and an emergency management resilience framework. Buildings and infrastructure are key elements of the 100RC projects, to which City of Melbourne has committed 10 per cent of its annual budget.

While it is clear resilience is an important attribute for regular buildings, the factors that contribute toward its achievement – such as grid independence – are even more significant in critical facilities such as hospitals, where the lives of patients often depend on a steady flow of energy. Thankfully, hospitals are now built to be grid-independent for an extended period of time.

Access to information is critical

As both our personal lives and the economy increasingly rely on the internet, reliable access during unexpected events becomes an important part of a city’s resilience. During recent natural disasters, we saw social media used to access urgent assistance, and to aggregate data on infrastructure damage, casualties and offers of help. Whilst the use of social media and crowd-sourcing information in these extreme situations is still imperfect, it’s potential to assist both individuals and wide-scale assistance efforts is evident.

During a crisis, the Internet of Things is allowing government agencies to collect and share information, to distribute it quickly to impacted residents and to target emergency response. During Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, wireless sensor information, government employees with smartphones and crowd-sourced information were all used to provide up-to-date flood maps and shelter information to residents.

Step by step, project by project

Taking a project-by-project approach to building the resilience of our cities is a way we can all contribute to the betterment of our world as a whole. Everyone has their own expertise to offer to this conversation, different perspectives of what makes a ‘good city’ shouldn’t confuse, but rather, enrich our understandings of achieving resilience.