Resilient City Overview and Urban Design Principles

Building cities to withstand the challenges of the future

Tramway railorad track with green grass in Barcelona, Spain
Alexander Spatari / Getty Images

Resilience refers to equipping cities to face future shocks and stresses from climate change and depleted oil and fuel sources—and make it through crises.

The definition of the term ‘resilient’ means possessing inner strength and resolve. Thus a resilient city takes into consideration appropriate form and physical infrastructure to be more prepared for the physical, social, and economic challenges that come with depleting carbon-based fuels and climate change.

But can we really increase the resilience of our cities to the point where we have 'future-proofed' them? Any credible historian or political scientist would perhaps argue that such an idea was sheer nonsense, that the world is far too complex and the number of possible future scenarios for any city far too vast to reasonably imagine that the notion of future-proofing was anything more than hyperbole. And yet, if the notion of future-proofing is seen as an ongoing process, rather than a definitive end result, then maybe the notion has more substance.

The acts of future-proofing may not lead to a complete “proofing”, but the actions involved could indeed reduce potential future shocks and impacts, and thus bring us full circle to the more robust, but maybe less resonant, concept of resilience.

11 Principles of Resilient Urban Design

Planning to effectively meet the conditions and realities of a post-carbon, climate responsible world will require a shift in our current understanding of what constitutes good urban design and planning. Many of the practices that we now take for granted, such as planning cities around automobile transportation and zoning for single uses, will no longer be economically, environmentally, or culturally viable. To address the changes in urban design and planning, the following principles for resilient urban planning and design in a post-carbon, climate-responsive building context may apply.

Under the 11 Resilient Urban Design Principles, resilient cities and neighborhoods will: 

  1. Embrace density, diversity, and mix of uses, users, building types, and public spaces.
  2. Prioritize walking as the preferred mode of travel, and as a defining component of a healthy quality of life.
  3. Develop in a way that is transit supportive.
  4. Focus energy and resources on conserving, enhancing, and creating strong, vibrant places, which are a significant component of the neighborhood’s structure and of the community’s identity.
  5. Provide the needs of daily living, within walking distance (a 500 m radius).
  6. Conserve and enhance the health of natural systems (including climate) and areas of environmental significance, and manage the impacts of climate change.
  7. Enhance the effectiveness, efficiency, and safety of their technical and industrial systems and processes, including their manufacturing, transportation, communications, and construction infrastructure and systems to increase their energy efficiency, and reduce their ​environmental footprint.
  8. Will grow and produce the resources they need, in close proximity (200-kilometer radius).
  9. Will require the active participation of community members, at all scales in the development plans.
  10. Plan and design for redundancy and durability of their life safety and critical infrastructure systems. Planning and design of these systems will aim for levels of redundancy and durability that are commensurate with the increasing environmental, social, and economic stresses associated with the impacts of climate change and peak oil.
  11. Develop building types and urban forms with reduced servicing costs, and reduced environmental footprints.