Urban resilience is a measure of how well communities, businesses, and government agencies can withstand both temporary shocks and chronic stress; increasingly, it is an essential goal for urban planners everywhere. While urban areas can become stronger in the aftermath of a catastrophe, it is a less-than-ideal way to bolster resilience. The issues that plague cities are often chronic, and must be addressed proactively.
The Rockefeller Foundation-funded City Resilience Index provides dozens of indicators that cities can use to measure their resilience, such as the availability of safe and affordable housing, and it has been tested in cities including Hong Kong and Liverpool.
Meanwhile the World Bank Group’s City Resilience Program is designed to foster investment in viable projects that can enhance resilience. In practice and in theory, urban resilience must go beyond merely managing urban challenges like transportation system failures, housing shortages, and social strife by merely reacting to them.
Instead, it should focus on proactively anticipating and preparing for challenges. Still, it is often only following catastrophe that city governments implement system-wide changes. It remains to be seen to what extent cities will be able to fix the many flaws - in governance, infrastructure, and trust between the city authorities and residents - that have been exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is likely that COVID-19 has been relatively well managed in Singapore, Taiwan, China, and China because these places experienced SARS, and have since boosted their urban pandemic resilience. In addition, natural hazards exacerbated by poor infrastructure and services (such as Hurricane Katrina in the US in 2005, which claimed thousands of lives) also continue to pose threats.
The distinction between temporary shocks and the chronic, long-term stress that affect urban areas is sometimes unclear. Social upheaval that seems to have been triggered unexpectedly is often underpinned by longstanding underlying tension. Indonesian riots in 1998, for example, were triggered by systemic and sustained problems in urban centres - such as widespread unemployment, food shortages, an escalating cost of living, and an increasingly bifurcated society along class and ethnic lines. Other threats to resilience include viral epidemics, such as the severe acute respiratory syndrome in the early 2000s that killed hundreds of people in Asia.
In many cities, resilience is hindered by geography; Jakarta is increasingly vulnerable to floods, as 40% of its land area is below sea level and generally over-developed. Building urban resilience is a difficult process that requires good governance and significant capital investment.