Monday 5
Towards a Socio-Ecological Urban Resilience
Anne Sistel
› 11:00 - 18:00 (7h)
› Montpellier
Towards a Socio-Ecological Urban Resilience
Anne Sistel  1@  
1 : National School of Architecture of Montpellier, LIFAM Laboratory
Ecole d'architecture de Montpellier

Urban resilience is mostly understood to be related to environmental aspects. However, more and more researchers ask multi-disciplinary - in particular sociological - questions. Is resilience – if solely focused on environmental aspects – actually detrimental to the urban population?

In developed countries, ‘sustainable' housing is constructed in so called ‘eco-neighbourhoods' according to a number of environmental criteria. However, we should not forget that a quarter of the urban population world-wide is living in slums because of the lack of affordable housing for the poor. Housing in these slums is often very resilient (e.g. against aggression from non-residents) because of the solidarity of people who live there. The development of these neighbourhoods should aim at improving the quality of life of the inhabitants and respect the social network that exists between them. But in reality, the design for developing these neighbourhoods, which often are in very attractive urban locations (e.g. on the coast, or in proximity to the city centre), attracts higher income populations and leads to gentrification of these neighbourhoods. While this process predominates in developed countries, it increasingly can be observed in developing countries, where they may be used for the development of infrastructure for tourism or new business districts.

Policies aimed at urban development should improve the quality of life of the inhabitants while respecting the social environment: it should aim at reducing poverty, at improving housing and access to a healthy and balanced diet. These priorities should not be second to the environmental benefits of the development. The concept of urban resilience needs to include the adaptive capacity of all residents in the different urban contexts. It should therefore include a long-term process that involves the participation of stakeholders in the decisions and empower them with regard to the proposed changes. Technological solutions for the ‘intelligent city' should first and foremost include the aim of managing change.

Thus, the framework for a sustainable city is that of a city in geographic and social change. Its governance should be representative and shared between different interest groups. Socio-ecological resilience so defined can respond to social injustice that may be created by urban change. Similarly, how resilience- or resistance – is measured is a tool to reveal fundamental social inequalities that we should oppose. Participatory methods are key to addressing this need for adaptive governance.

Through his reflections on the relationships between man and his environment, Patrick Geddes, biologist, ecologist and urban planner from Scotland, was a pioneer in advocating for socio-ecological resilience. In today's debate his ideas can clarify the meaning of urban resilience considering the increasing urbanization, which is contrary to social fairness. It may be time to leave behind constant adaptation in favour of a paradigm shift.


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