The Resilient City

I’m currently reading The Happy City. So far, it’s very good. It examines very aspects of city life that either improve the happiness of residents or detract from it. It’s a moniker every city should aspire to, clearly, being a Happy City. Similarly, we often talk about what it means to be a Livable City or a Walkable City. I’ve written about how Ottawa needs to embrace being a Winter City and a Transit City.

Obviously, one needn’t choose just one of these identities…nor could you. A Happy City is going to be a Walkable City. A Winter City must be a Transit City. There’s another identity to which cities should aspire, one that I haven’t heard spoken of, at least not as its own discrete category.

The Resilient City.

Resilience is an important contributor to being a Happy City or a Livable City, and this importance will be ever-increasing as time goes by. Cities that ignore this concept will suffer. Cities that embrace resilience will have a better chance at thriving. It is a necessary, if insufficient, factor in creating a successful city.

These days, it seems we hear most about resilience when we speak of climate change and climate emergencies. Weather patterns are becoming more extreme and less predictable. Heat waves, temperature fluctuations, flooding, tornadoes…all must be factored into smart city planning.

No more can we keep building in flood planes, ignoring the risk of twice-in-a-century floods that occur two out of three years. We must make plans to provide proper air conditioning during heat waves that pose an acute threat to the elderly, or provide warmth during cold snaps that threaten those who are housing insecure or sleep rough. We must protect our trees, as they clean our air and fight the heat island effect in urban areas.

But The Resilient City is more than just an environmentally-conscience entity. It touches on every aspect of city-building.

Our built form must be varied and malleable, allowing a variety of uses, accommodating growth and supporting residents and businesses alike, regardless of economic climate.

Our housing stock needs to be flexible, supporting varied and changing households. Zoning and regulations must foster sufficient excess in housing supply to accommodate shocks and push back against scarcity-induced bubbles. We need low-rise and missing middle development to bring that development. We need to foster gentle density to quickly accommodate spikes in demand, as well as general intensification to help everyone get a home that is affordable to them and the city.

As more and more social services get downloaded onto cities throughout North America, we need prepare to support each other during hard times and economic downturns. We need the social infrastructure required to support all residents. We need public amenities to provide resources and services to residents of lesser means. Sometimes, we need community centres and city programming to help parents during a teacher’s strike.

We need resilience in our transportation system. We need to support active, sustainable transportation. We need to facilitate multi-modal transportation. We need to structure our city to minimize the number of residents who rely on inefficient, expensive and damaging transportation. We need reliability, excess capacity and affordability for the most efficient forms of transportation. When one aspect of our transportation system is down for a day or a week, we need a system that can provide reasonable alternatives, with minimal hardship.

If we want this–if you want this–it’s time to get to work.

To create a Resilient City, you need to identify, plan for and mitigate risks. You need to be able to quickly respond to unexpected occurrences. You need to expect that those situations will occur. You need a robust municipal infrastructure. You need to do your best to make sure no one is left standing on the platform as the city rolls away.

If you want a Happy City, a Livable City, a Sustainable City…you need to have a Resilient City.

I hope your city will become a Resilient City.

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