Craig Applegath, Moderator, ResilientCity.org
I am often asked: “ what exactly does Resilience mean?” When I first was asked this question, a couple of years ago – when the concept of resilience was newer and less well understood – I would simply repeat our ResilientCity.org working definition, and try to work through an explanation the ideas contained in it.
However, I have changed tack.
Now when asked, “what does Resilience mean?” I simply say that Resilience is a good word to capture the idea of how to future proof our cities and their built fabric in the face of future shocks and stresses from climate change and peak oil. For some reason, this explanation seems more satisfying to most people and seems to “click” into peoples consciousness in a way that discussing a city’s “capacities to help absorb future shocks and stresses to its social, economic, and technical systems and infrastructures…” does not.
More interestingly, the combination of those two words, “future” and “proofing”, seems to create an altogether deeper resonance than I had anticipated. I guess this should be no surprise given the fact that we are all fascinated by what the future holds for us – often morbidly so – and equally interested in the notion that we could somehow imagine making ourselves or our cities proof against the future.
But does this shorthand metaphor bear up under the responsibility that it seems to imply? Can we really increase the resilience of our cities to the point where we have “future proofed” them? Any credible historian or political scientist would of course argue that such an idea was shear nonsense, that the world is far too complex, and the number of possible future scenarios for any city far too vast to reasonably imagine that the notion of “future proofing” was anything more than hyperbole.
And yet, if the notion of future proofing is seen as an ongoing process, rather than a definitive end result, then maybe the notion has more substance. The acts of “future proofing” may not lead to a complete “proofing”, but the actions involved could indeed reduce potential future shocks and impacts, and thus brings us full circle to the more robust, but maybe less resonant, concept of resilience.
So in the end, I will continue to feel reasonably comfortable using the phrase “future proofing” as the short-form for the concept of “resilience”, as long as we all agree that any deeper examination would follow a path back to the idea of resilience.