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August 01, 2019

Urban Resiliency: What is it and Why Does it Matter?

Urban Resiliency:  What is it and Why Does it Matter?
The Canadian Press, 2013

Urban resiliency planning involves planning for mitigation, adaptability, and recovery from change. It centers around the ability for a community or area to bounce back and resume a business-as-normal pace following a drastic event or environmental shift. The focus is not a return to the status quo, but rather an effective adaptation to new circumstances. Resiliency thinking encompasses all scales and scopes, and so it must be understood at a high-level, systems-based scale, as well as a place-based, local context.

Resiliency Defined:

Resiliency is the ability of an urban area, which includes individuals, communities, institutions, businesses and systems, to prepare for and adapt to change stemming from chronic stresses and acute shocks, and bounce back to a functioning state following a disruption.
Major events that result in change are referred to as “shocks” and “stresses” in resiliency planning. Shocks are acute events such as environmental disasters such as heat waves or persistent flooding, social uprisings, or infrastructure failure. Stresses refer to chronic, long-term issues that build over time but cause just as much damage - such as climate change, erosion of civic trust, lack of a cohesive society, or an economic crisis. Both shocks and stresses have a lasting and devastating effect on local communities and regional areas.
Ryerson’s Grad Students Undertake a Resiliency Study
In Spring 2019, a team of Master of Planning in Urban Development students at Ryerson University prepared an Urban Resiliency Strategy as part of a client-based studio assignment. The team, which included Vickey Simovic, Jessica Brodeur, Alex Furneaux, Trevor McPherson, Eva Shi, Alex Butler and Ray Huang, prepared the strategy on behalf of Jessica Hawes, Principal at Stewart Hawes Urban Design, with supervision by Blair Scorgie, Contract Lecturer at Ryerson University’s School of Urban and Regional Planning. Their task was to research and catalog case studies of urban resiliency projects and practices, and develop a set of best practices and resiliency principles to be applied to future planning processes. The second phase of their work involved applying our analysis to the Scarborough Centre area - more about that later.

Resiliency Themes
To understand resiliency, their work began by identifying seven themes. These themes encompass the various lenses through which resiliency should be considered:
Built Form Resilience
(housing, infrastructure, construction)
Economic Resilience
(financing, market stability, employment)
Environmental Resilience
(climate events, weather events, parks and open spaces)
Emergency Preparedness
(public health, public safety in case of disaster events)
Social Resilience
(accessibility, equity, community, arts, culture)
Resilient Transportation
(all modes of transportation, and the future of transportation)
Resilient Utilities
(water, waste, electricity)
Best Practices in Urban Resiliency Planning
They then reviewed more than 50 cases of resilient design strategies, policies, programs, and initiatives from around the globe, and created a set of principles to guide future resiliency work.
Case Study 1:           Green Infrastructure in Tåsinge Plads, Copenhagen, Denmark
  Tåsinge Plads is a climate-adapted park and public space located in the City of Copenhagen. The park is designed to control and reduce local flooding through the use of green infrastructure that slows and temporarily retains water (keeping it out of the city’s sewers); while also improving biodiversity, mitigating the urban heat island effect, and providing green space and public art.

Lessons Learned:
  1. Showcasing green infrastructure through art and design helps people to better see and understand these technologies as well as displaying the ecosystem processes at play.
  2. Slowing or redirecting water flow in urban spaces can reduce downstream pressure on existing infrastructure.
Case Study 2:           Futureproofing Parking Structures in Cincinnati, Ohio
  In many cities there is an oversupply of parking, and with the introduction of autonomous vehicles, the role of parking in cities is going to change. The 84.51° Centre Development in Cincinnati is a mixed-use building that future proofs the parking component of the building. The centre was designed to have three floors of above ground parking between the lobby and office floors, and the parking was designed so it can be easily converted into office space (the parking floors are level and do not slope).
Lessons Learned:
  1. Adaptive reuse of existing parking, as well as future-proofing new parking structures can help cities respond to changing parking demand.
  2. Where parking is required, policies should be designed to encourage parking structures to be built in a way that is conducive to re-purposing.
Case Study 3:           A Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Fund in Denver, Colorado
  In 2010, the City and County of Denver along with several investors partnered to establish an affordable housing TOD acquisition fund. The purpose was to support the creation and preservation of affordable housing units through strategic property acquisition in current and future transit corridors. It provided developers a loan to purchase and hold land for five years, for affordable housing developments within 800m of high frequency bus stations. Provisioning land while the transit lines are still being constructed allowed affordable housing developers to purchase parcels at more reasonable prices. The fund has acquired eight properties, creating 626 affordable homes and more than 700 jobs.
Lessons Learned:
  • Working with community partners can help make affordable housing financially feasible.
Guiding Principles for Resiliency Planning:
  1. Decentralization: Systems shouldn’t be reliant on a single part of the network to react to shocks and stresses. Resources and assets should be diversified and have redundancy built in, having multiple fail safes that mitigate adverse effects from shocks and stresses.
  2. Collaboration: Involvement and contribution from a diversity of stakeholders is essential. Integrating the interests of stakeholders through an inclusive process is necessary to generate buy-in amongst those who will be implementing resiliency measures.
  3. Multifunctionality: Uses need to be layered to adapt to unpredictable changes and provide co-benefits. Designing for multifunctionality identifies opportunities to efficiently use resources today, while preparing to be flexible and ready to transition to the future.
  4. Proactivity: Systems need to be designed to anticipate potential shocks and stresses. They assess the likelihood and impact of a disruptive event, and plan accordingly.
  5. Inclusivity: Truly resilient systems are barrier-free and inclusive to everyone. This includes a barrier-free physical environment, the inclusion of vulnerable populations, and public accessibility to the decision-making process.
  6. Financial Feasibility: Resiliency needs to be viewed as a long-term investment that requires capital and operational funding in order to be financially sustainable. This requires innovative funding models and the efficient allocation of resources.
  7. Measurability: Clear targets with specific, measurable outcomes are required. Standardized baselines and indicators ensure that data is shared with those who need it to inform evidence-based decision-making.

The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s), and may not reflect the position of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute.

Post by Ryerson University Urban Resiliency Studio Group

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