Strong sustainable and resilient cities requires enhanced knowledge and understanding of complex social-ecological interactions, but it also implies a ‘novel’ conceptualization of the relationship between humans and nature, one in which individuals perceive themselves as embedded members of the Biosphere. This “reconnection with the biosphere” in resilience suggests a radical shift in how resilient cities are conceived
The shift to sustainable and resilient cities and it is a paradigm change has revolutionary consequences for how we envision a sustainable civilization. At the core of sustainable modern societies lays not only better understanding of complex social ecological interactions, and the following institutionalization of national and international agreements to limit ecological overexploitation but also the realization, acceptance, and embracement of a ‘novel’ form of human-nature relationship; one in which humankind is embedded in and part of nature
Incorporating social ecosystem and resilience thinking in urban transitions is an important step in providing developing solutions for the city’s aim of ecosystem based urban transformation. But it also brings novel ideas with interesting repercussions for the international debate on resilient urban development. The already implemented social ecologic urbanism concept is the second generation methodology after the dominance of the smart growth and sustainable urbanism paradigms, since it deals not only with designs for mitigation of carbon emissions, but also with adaptation measures to enhance adaptive capacities by integrating ecosystems and their services in planning and urban design. It does so by searching for synergies between ecological and social (and economic) systems, where resilience is used as the systems’ capacity to absorb shocks, utilize them, reorganize, and continue to develop without losing fundamental functions. In that perspective social-ecological urbanism can rather be seen as a scientific upgrading of the current urbanism concepts. The objective is to create ‘artificial ecosystem’ cities that achieve the same interdependent efficiencies and life-preserving redundancies as natural ecosystems, turning the current linear pattern into a loop. The emphasis on social ecologic systems is a very different way of thinking about the city: urban sites, cities are seen as locations of, not only demand for but supply of, resources. It is an ‘engineering’ model, vitally important, and far from conventional urban design theory and practice. We are working and completing a robust theory of cities, research on complex systems shed light on some of the fundamental patterns of urban systems and how, for example, population size relates to urban growth, rates of innovation, and the pace of life in cities.
A robust theory of cities will have to go further so we are designing and experimenting with methods and tools that provide predictive capacity with decision support tools that urban leaders can use to plan more sustainable development trajectories for their cities. Research and practice so far has proposed more general notions for practice on how to build urban resilience, including: enabling high rates of innovations, maintaining diversity (both social and ecological) maintaining modularity, restoring lost ecological functions, tightening feedback loops, building social capital and address equity, and building overlap in governance. In taking these general notions into more concrete applications more work needs to be done, especially in relation to urban planning as a process and practice.
For cities to be resilient and for resilience to help improve sustainability, cities have to develop in ways that can leverage complexity and the interactive nature of urban systems across the globe. Ultimately, creating sustainable cities is critical to achieving any measure of global sustain- ability. It simply will not happen without cities leading the way, and this requires accepting the challenges we face head-on and by harnessing systems and ecological approaches to meet those challenges.