Resilient in the Wake of Change

Digitisation, urbanisation, densification, and globalisation are some of the phenomena having a profound effect on our cities and challenging how we, as a society manage and operate within them.

How can we design cities that meet today’s needs and the requirements of an unknown future?


According to Richard Palmer, WSP’s Director of Sustainability, “Recently, we’ve seen increasing pressure on housing and rising inequality within communities. Our cities are more prone to extreme weather events and our essential services and aged infrastructure are operating at capacity. A globalised economy means market shocks are crippling; the global financial crisis of 2008 is evidence of that.”


These complexities aren’t isolated issues to Melbourne, Sydney or Auckland but are evident in almost all major cities around the world.


How the built environment copes with these extremes is known as urban resilience. According to the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC), it is the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses and systems within a city to service, adapt and grow no matter what kind of stresses and shocks they may experience.


How we Plan Resilient Cities is Changing

Traditionally governments have been solely responsible for managing urban resilience and sustainability. However, as cities increasingly face an uncertain future, it is time to change the status quo – it is time to better understand the risks we face and plan for the future.


Recently, Sydney and Melbourne joined the 100 Resilient Cities, a network dedicated to helping cities around the world develop action plans to be able to respond to adverse events and deliver basic functions in both good times and bad times.


The strategies for both cities are focused on preparing for the future by involving stakeholders to lead and work together towards a thriving future. Both frameworks set out goals based on economic, social and physical targets.


Mr Palmer adds, “These frameworks are evidence that the time to go beyond government legislation is now. Modern phenomena are impacting us quicker than we can govern across local, state and federal levels and it is important we band together to build resilient, future ready cities.”


Strengthening Resilience Today is a Prerequisite for Long-Term Sustainability

Mr Palmer, who is part of a speaking panel at the Australian Engineering Conference discussing the future of sustainability and resilience, believes that by creating resilient cities we are also putting the building blocks down for a long-term future.


Speaking to Engineers Australia, Mr Palmer states, “We need to consider resilience before sustainability. However, for cities, sustainability doesn’t just mean going green – it means staying agile, preparing for turbulence and adapting to changing times.”


What Does the Future Hold?

The phenomena we are seeing today present many unforeseeable trends. Where these leave us in 20 years’ time is largely unknown.


” It takes many fundamentals to build a resilient city,” adds Mr Palmer. “We need strong and accountable leadership, innovative models to fund infrastructure and we need to build social capital. For example, resilience can grow from developing viable housing options for all people, establishing shared spaces that promote social cohesion to minimise the growing trends of mental illness and obesity, producing green spaces in between buildings that help the city cope with extreme storms and weather events or preparing our buildings for sea level rises.


Everyone in society has a part to play in building resilient cities so they can remain agile, prepared for turbulence and ready to adapt to changing times, while ultimately being sustainable.


Richard Palmer will be speaking about The Future of Sustainability and Resilience at the Australian Engineering Conference from 11am on September 19. To find more about the conference please click here.


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