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Qualities of Resilient Systems

Resilient systems withstand, respond to, and adapt more readily to shocks and stresses to bounce back stronger after tough times, and live better in good times.

Extensive research has shown that resilient cities demonstrate seven qualities:

  • Reflectiveness
  • Resourcefulness
  • Robustness
  • Redundancy
  • Flexibility
  • Inclusiveness
  • Integration

Reflectiveness and resourcefulness are about the ability to learn from the past and act in times of crisis.

Individuals and institutions that are reflective use past experience to inform future decisions, and will modify standards and behaviours accordingly. For example, planning processes that are reflective are better able to respond to changing circumstances.

Resourceful people and institutions are able to recognise alternative ways to use resources at times of crisis in order to meet their needs or achieve their goals. For example, although households in cities in Chile's Central Valley use water provided by municipal networks on a daily basis, the service is often interrupted after strong earthquakes. As a response, many households maintain wells to continue provision of water.

Robustness, redundancy and flexibility are qualities that help to conceive systems and assets that can withstand shocks and stresses as well as the willingness to use alternative strategies to facilitate rapid recovery.

Robust design is well-conceived, constructed and managed and includes making provision to ensure failure is predictable, safe, and not disproportionate to the cause. For example, protective infrastructure that is robust will not fail catastrophically when design thresholds are exceeded.

Redundancy refers to spare capacity purposively created to accommodate disruption due to extreme pressures, surges in demand or an external event. It includes diversity where there are multiple ways to achieve a given need. For example, energy systems that incorporate redundancy provide multiple delivery pathways that can accommodate surges in demand or disruption to supply networks.

Flexibility refers to the willingness and ability to adopt alternative strategies in response to changing circumstances or sudden crises. Systems can be made more flexible through introducing new technologies or knowledge, including recognising traditional practices. For example, in times of crisis, cities may redeploy public buses for emergency evacuations.

Inclusive and integrated relate to the processes of good governance and effective leadership that ensure investments and actions are appropriate, address the needs of the most vulnerable and collectively create a resilient city - for everyone.

Inclusive processes emphasise the need for broad consultation and 'many seats at the table' to create a sense of shared ownership or a joint vision to build city resilience. For example, early warning reach everyone at risk will enable people to protect themselves and minimise loss of life and property.

Integrated processes bring together systems and institutions and can also catalyze additional benefits as resources are shared and actors are enabled to work together to achieve greater ends. For example, integrated city plans enable a city to deal with multidisciplinary issues like climate change, disaster risk reduction or emergency response through coordination.

Excerpted from "City Resilience Framework," January 2015