ccording to Rebuild by Design, “our cities were built in response to yesterday’s problems.”
Climate change creates new and unpredictable contexts to which cities have to prepare, adapt, and respond.
Aging infrastructure, chronic poverty, struggling economies, and growing population and migration patterns all exacerbate the challenges posed by climate change.
While climate adaptation and resilience planning must occur within specific, localized contexts, critical adaptation studies look broadly to the Global North and South to examine the systems and structures that perpetuate inequities, and for opportunities to critically adapt, in the promotion of climate justice.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) defines climate adaptation as actions that help communities and ecosystems cope with changing climate conditions.
The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) describes climate adaptation as adjusting natural and human systems so that they minimize harmful effects from climatic stimuli.
Critical climate adaptation examines approaches to climate adaptation through intersectional lenses that challenge predominant power structures.
Critical climate adaptation recognizes that existing technological, economic, colonial, and patriarchal structures can exacerbate rather than reduce vulnerabilities to climate change.
For example, Roa Petra Crease, Meg Parsons, and Karen Toni Fisher (2018), apply critical climate adaptation, feminist political ecology, and intersectionality approaches to understand climate and gender injustices among Filipino women.
Critical climate adaptation intersects with issues of climate justice in that it is critically examining how adaptation processes occur, and the impacts of these processes, particularly in regard to the disproportionate burdens or effects adaptation requires.
Resilience operates alongside climate adaptation, with parallel structures of adaptation and critical adaptation. Resilience emerged in psychology more than 50 years ago, suggesting that resilience stems from inter-dependencies and protective factors that emerge from supportive relationships (Masten & Obradovic, 2014).
When resilience emerged in the ecological literature in the 1970s, concepts of connectedness, flexibility, and adaptive capacity similarly replaced our thinking that ecological systems were static or stable (Holling, 1973).
This non-equilibrium paradigm, which has been applied in social-ecological resilience (Berkes & Seixas 2005), community well-being (Astbury, 2013), governance and urban planning (Pearson & Pearson, 2014), and sustainability (Magis, 2010).
Resilience frameworks recognize that cities have an opportunity not only to respond and recover but also to thrive in the face of change.
Campanella (2006) suggests that many cities are resilient because their governments prioritize emergency management and disaster planning.
However, he also highlights the importance of social and cultural networks as well as identity in fostering resilience.
Using a historical lens, Campanella (2006, p. 142) reminds us that “Indeed, it is possible for a city to be reconstructed, even heroically, without fully recovering. Put another way, resilience involves much more than rebuilding.”
Cities also reflect social networks and identities that may or may not recover as readily as physical infrastructure.
Mexico City has been lauded as demonstrating social resilience after its 1985 earthquake when citizens rallied almost immediately against the political inequities the government was instituting in its recovery response (Davis, 2005). Such a response required social networking and served to strengthen cultural identity, in response to the state.
Reflecting on the potential inequities in resilience, such as experienced by Mexico City, Vale (2014) has raised questions about “whose resilience” and “whose city.” Given that cities produce and reflect disparities in social and economic realms, resilience is also distributed unevenly across a cityscape.
Vale argues that “bouncing back” may not be desirable “if social environments that are stable are also deeply inequitable.” Poverty can hinder people’s opportunities, by limiting education and access to services, thus reinforcing poverty despite people’s resilience.
Marginalized populations within a city require more resources to cope with stresses on a daily basis than their more affluent counterparts (Vale 2014). Not only do people experience different and unequal stresses, but they also have different ways of responding to these stresses (Rumbach, 2015).
If socio-ecological resilience is to create a context in which cities can not only recover from disasters or stresses, but also thrive in the face of change (Magis, 2010), then understanding and addressing diverse perspectives within a city is an essential component of resilience.
Astbury, J. (2013). Interactive urban landscapes for well-being and sustainability. In R. Coles & Z. Milliman (Eds.), Landscape, Well-Being and Environment, 72-86. Abington, UK: Routledge.
Berkes, F., & Seixas, C. S. (2005). Building resilience in lagoon social-ecological systems: A local-level perspective. Ecosystems 8, 967-974.
Campanella, T. J. (2006). Urban resilience and the recovery of New Orleans. Journal of the American planning association, 72 (2), 141-146. Available from Semo.edu
Crease, R. P., Parsons, M., & Fisher, K. T. (2018). “No climate justice without gender justice”: explorations of the intersections between gender and climate injustices in climate adaptation actions in the Philippines. In Routledge Handbook of Climate Justice (pp. 383-401). Routledge.
Davis, D. E. (2015). Reverberations: Mexico City’s 1985 earthquake and the transformation of the capital. In L. J. Vale & T. J. Campanella (Eds.), The Resilient City: How Modern Cities Recover from Disaster (pp. 255–280). New York: Oxford University Press.
Holling, C. S. (1973). Resilience and stability of ecological systems. Annual Review of Ecological Systems, 4, 1-23.
Magis, K. (2010) Community resilience: an indicator of social sustainability. Society and Natural Resources 23, 401-416.
Masten, A., & Obradovic, J. (2008). Disaster preparation and recovery: lessons from research on resilience in human development. Ecology and Society, 13(1), 9.
Pearson, Leonie and Craig Pearson. 2014. “Adaptation and Transformation for Resilient and Sustainable Cities.” In Resilient Sustainable Cities, edited by Leonie Pearson, Peter Newton, and Peter Roberts, 242-248. New York: Routledge
Rumbach, A. (2015). Cities at risk. In F. Miraftab & N. Kudva, Cities of the Global South Reader, (pp. 197-201). New York: Routledge.
Vale, L. J. (2014). The politics of resilient cities: whose resilience and whose city?. Building Research & Information, 42 (2), 191-201. Available from MIT.