Building urban resilience with nature
How do cities resist threats and pressures such as natural disasters, economic downturns or social fatigue, and what links resilience with urban planning? Why resilient cities are better prepared to recover from hardships?
As cities face increasingly complex and interconnected challenges today, resilience is becoming an important factor in urban planning. City planners can help the community better prepare to meet these challenges by building cities with resilience in mindi.
The world’s cities are more densely populated and more connected than ever before. While on the one hand it brings an increase in economic benefits, on the other it weakens social well-being. Decisions made by city authorities, but also by the community, must not only respond effectively and quickly to sudden threats, but also be comprehensive in the face of emerging chronic social stress.
What are the acute shocks and social stress?
Acute shocks are often negative and intense events that threaten the population of an entire city, here examples are earthquakes, hurricanes, pandemics, potential terrorist attacks. Their impact is exacerbated by chronic stress, which weakens the social fabric over time. They can be caused by: repeated floods and inundations, high unemployment, a limited network of institutions caring for social security and inefficient public transport systems. It’s rare for a city to experience only one type of challenge at a time.
Instead, urban centers face several emergencies and chronic stresses. By strengthening their basic fabric and deepening the understanding of threats, cities influence development and stability, correcting the direction of development and building the well-being of residents. Urban resilience is a response to three converging global megatrends: climate change, urbanization and globalization.
The influence of greenery on urban resilience
Greenery has a significant impact on the resilience of cities. It can increase the city’s ability to adapt and withstand various stresses and shocks. Here are some ways in which greenery can contribute to building the resilience of cities:
1. Climate resilience: Greenery can help mitigate the urban heat island effect, a phenomenon where urban areas become significantly warmer than surrounding rural areas. Trees and vegetation provide shade, lower surface temperatures and cool the air, thus reducing the need for energy-intensive cooling systems (air conditioning) and improving living conditions in urban areas.
2. Environmental resilience: Greenery can help reduce the effects of natural disasters such as floods. Trees and vegetation help absorb excess rainwater and prevent soil erosion, reducing the risk of flooding and dangerous landslides. In addition, greenery can contribute to improving air and water quality.
3. Social resilience: Greenery improves the mental and physical health of city dwellers, which can increase their resistance to various stresses and threats. Access to green spaces has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, improve cognition and promote physical activity, all of which can help individuals cope with adversity.
4. Economic resilience: Greenery can contribute to a city’s economic resilience by attracting tourists, supporting local businesses and creating jobs. Additionally, green infrastructure such as green roofs and walls can help reduce energy costs and improve the efficiency of buildings by making them more resilient to energy price shocks.
Overall, greenery can contribute to the development of more resilient and sustainable urban areas, which can better withstand and recover from a range of stresses and shocks.
The Kobe’s example
On the example of the Japanese city of Kobe, inhabited by over 1.5 million inhabitants, we can see how the implementation of a new zoning plan, investing in the creation of water reservoirs or replacing old water infrastructure with a modern one, resistant to seismic shocks, has brought positive effects. Similarly, a change in thinking about public transport, which has become more ecological by reducing the level of pollution and lowering the temperature in the city[ii]. Kobe is a large urban center that was hit by an earthquake in 1995, after which the entire urban system had to return to full functioning as soon as possible. This earthquake was the second costliest and most tragic in the history of Japan [iii]. By building resilience, city authorities, business and residents want to protect the city against similar effects of subsequent sudden threats.
In conclusion, the development of green spaces contributes to the growth of more resilient and sustainable urban areas that can better withstand a range of stresses and hazards and support regeneration. In the face of climate change, the resilience of cities becomes crucial. Rising sea levels, extreme weather events and changing weather patterns can cause significant damage to cities and their inhabitants. By building resilience, cities can prepare for these challenges, adapt to new conditions and reduce the risk of damage and even loss of life.
By investing in urban resilience, centers can assure their residents that they will remain habitable, functional and safe places, even in the face of sudden challenges related to climate change, progressive urbanization and globalization. It is important to build the strength of urban centers based on green and blue areas and infrastructure, which has an undeniable positive impact on their social well-being IV .
i More on how to build urban resilience https://urbandesignlab.in/the-future-of-urban-design-trends-and-challenges/ (27.04.23)
ii Kobe’s example descibed in OECD report, www.oecd.org/cfe/regionaldevelopment/resilient-cities-kobe.pdf (27.04.23).
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