Resilient City | Definition, Attributes and Features


The definition of resilience has been evolving and adapted in different context and principles across various disciplines. It is important to examine different concepts of resilient city in order to understand and derive the relevant definition. A resilient city is characterized by its capacity to withstand or absorb the impact of a hazard through resistance or adaptation, which enable it to maintain certain basic functions and structures during a crisis, and bounce back or recover from an event (Twigg, 2007; UNISDR terminology).

Various explanations of Resilient City

In simple terms it could be understood that a resilient city is the one which is able to survive a traumatic blow to its physical infrastructure, its economy, or its social fabric. The resilient city bends but does not break; it absorbs impacts without shattering. Even if the bridges and roads are ruined and the buildings toppled,

It is defined as the capacity to prevent, mitigate, absorb, prepare for, respond to, and recover from the impacts of disasters‘. Building resilience to disaster risks enhances our ability to minimize the effects of the future disaster events on our communities, economy and environment. It also means that we efficiently and effectively cope with the impacts of disasters when they occur in the future. Cities are complex and dynamic systems in which technological, natural, and social components interact amongst themselves. Disaster resilience requires combinations of apparent opposites: redundancy and efficiency, diversity and interdependence, strength and flexibility, autonomy and collaboration, planning and adaptability. It also means that we efficiently and effectively cope with the impacts of disasters when they do occur in the future.

Resilient cities as explained by Godschalk (2003) are cities which are capable of withstanding severe shock and stress without either immediate chaos/damage or permanent deformation or rupture. These cities acquire a certain level of resiliency as they are designed in advance to anticipate, weather, recover, and bounce back from the impacts of natural or technological hazards, the concept resilient cities are based on principles derived from past experience with disasters in urban areas. While they may bend from hazard forces, they do not break. Composed of networked social communities and lifeline systems, they are able to adapt and rebound to new levels of sustainability with minimum loss or damage.


A resilient city can be defined as a sustainable network of physical systems and communities. These physical systems consist of the constructed and natural environmental components of the city. They include its roads, buildings, physical infrastructure, communications facilities, soils, topography, physical features, geology, water ways, population density etc. In sum, the physical systems act as the body of the city, its bones, arteries, and muscles. During any disaster, the physical systems must be able to survive and function under extreme shock and stressed conditions. If enough of them suffer breakdowns and damages that cannot be repaired, losses escalate and recovery slows as a result.

Related: Primate City & Primacy | Relationship between city sizes

Pillars of resilient city

A city without resilient physical systems will be extremely vulnerable to disasters and the physical, economic and social loss caused by them. Communities are the social and institutional components of the city. They include the formal and informal, stable and ad hoc human associations that operate in an urban area: neighborhoods, agencies, organizations, enterprises, task forces, and the like. In sum, the communities act as the brain of the city, directing its activities, responding to its needs, and learning from its experience.(David R.Godschalk,2002)

The resilient city‘s core institutions and lifeline infrastructure survive; its social fabric holds; and in time, its economy rebounds—all, ideally, without undue infusions of aid or assistance from external actors. Urban resilience is an elusive state that resists easy metrics or qualification. It can be difficult or even impossible to gauge a city‘s true rebound capacity until an actual disaster is at hand. A city‘s degree of resilience can also change over time with external factors, technology and awareness; the very same kind of event can yield very different outcomes depending on prevailing socioeconomic conditions.

Pillars of resilient city

While cities continue to age and change in response to population movements and development activities, one of the biggest challenges to present and future resiliency of cities is likely to spring from devastating impacts of disaster and climate change. This challenge spans all areas of urban planning, from infrastructure to housing, health, transportation, and land use. During a disaster, the communities must be able to survive and function under extreme, stressful and unique conditions. If they break down, decision-making falters and response drags. in order to achieve resilience the not only the physical systems of the city should be resistant to disaster forces , but the social communities and institution must also be aware, informed and involved to reduce hazard risks and respond effectively since without the  involvement of communities ultimate urban resilience cannot be attained.

Related: What is Urban Growth

Basic and crucial characteristics of resilient city,  involve the following points

  • Resilient cities are constructed to be strong and flexible, rather than brittle and fragile.
  • Their lifeline systems of roads, utilities, infrastructure and other support facilities are designed to continue functioning in the face of rising water, high winds, shaking ground, and other shocks and extreme conditions.
  • Their new development as well allocation of important development is guided away from known high hazard and risk areas, and their vulnerable existing development and population is relocated to safe areas.
  • Their buildings are constructed or retrofitted to meet code standards based on hazard threats in order to reduce vulnerability.
  • Their natural environmental protective systems are conserved to maintain valuable hazard mitigation functions.
  • Finally, their governmental, nongovernmental, and private sector organizations possess accurate information about hazard vulnerability and disaster resources, are linked and coordinated with effective communication networks, and are experienced in working together.

Related: Land Use Planning

Since the level of urbanization is increasing at a vast pace in the highly fragile and sensitive environment of hilly towns, the need for creating resilient communities is growing .urban resiliency is an urgent matter. Planning must adapt to an era of fierce volatility and vulnerability in which the old assumptions of stable social,  economic, and environmental systems no longer hold and new adaptive, resourceful, robust and resilient systems is in demand for future sustainability. The questions are critical. Can cities whether the impacts of climate change and disasters? Can we create effective institutions and planning approaches to respond to the threats ahead? Can smart development approaches be implemented on a spatial basis? We are at a historic juncture and the answers matter greatly.

Attributes a disaster resilient city should possess:

Is one where disasters are minimized because the population lives in homes and neighborhoods with organized services and infrastructure that adhere to sensible building codes; without informal settlements built on flood plains or steep slopes because no other land is available.

  • Has an inclusive, competent and accountable local government that is concerned about sustainable urbanization and that commits the necessary resources to develop capacities to manage and organize itself before, during and after a natural hazard event.
  • Is one where the local authorities and the population understand their risks and develop a shared, local information base on disaster losses, hazards and risks, including who is exposed and who is vulnerable.
  • Is one where people are empowered to participate, decide and plan their city together with local authorities and value local and indigenous knowledge, capacities and resources.
  • Has taken steps to anticipate and mitigate the impact of disasters, incorporating monitoring and early warning technologies to protect infrastructure, community assets and individuals, including their homes and possessions, cultural heritage, environmental and economic capital, and is able to minimize physical and social losses arising from extreme weather events, earthquakes or other natural or human induced hazards.
  • Is able to respond, implement immediate recovery strategies and quickly restore basic services to resume social, institutional and economic activity after such an event.
  • Understands that most of the above is also central to building resilience to adverse environmental changes, including climate change, in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions

According to UNISDR, the disaster risk reduction (DRR) related activities comprise 10 essentials points. These are should be considered while development and planning in new urban planning regulations, plans and development activities.

Related: Central Place Theory (CPT) by Walter Christaller (1933)