Urban resilience: a theoretical and empirical investigation

  • Silvio Caputo

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    As a concept, resilience is relatively new to the urban debate although highly relevant. Cities are faced with major challenges. For example, climate change and issues related to food and energy security pose serious threats to the urban environment. In this context, the metaphor of an urban organism that adapts to maintain its functionality helps conceptualise an urban model (the resilient city) fit for this time. Urban resilience has been recently much investigated in disaster studies, as well as in relationship to all the manifestations of climate change. However, these are not the only destabilising factors cities will have to tackle. The post-industrial age is characterised by an unprecedented pace of change resulting in geopolitical and economic instability and uncertainty progressively entrenched in society. This makes the task of delivering sustainable urban environments all the more complicated. On the one hand, in order to optimise the use of financial and material resources, sustainable buildings and infrastructure designed today must be retained for their potential physical lifetime. On the other hand, economic and socio-political future pressures can accelerate obsolescence regardless of their sustainable performance. Cities must be resilient to climate change as well as to societal shifts.

    This thesis contributes to the debate on urban resilience and to its understanding both from a theoretical and from a practitioner’s standpoint. The aim of the thesis is twofold: to contribute to the urban design debate by bringing clarity on the concept of urban resilience that has been extensively used and interpreted in different fashions over the last decade; and to develop and trial professional approaches to embed resilience within design processes. The initial literature review is structured in five strands of urban resilience: resilience to natural hazards; resilience to man-made hazards; community resilience; resilience to climate change; and resilience through urban adaptability. Differences and intersections are highlighted and debated, and an argument for a more integrated interpretation of this concept is made. The review is subsequently complemented with eleven interviews to practitioners, intended to probe their perception of the relevance of this issue within the urban design practice, and to canvass opinions that can help define effective and practical approaches to eliciting conditions for urban resilience. Findings from this initial stage of the thesis enable the definition of the characteristics and the identification of a methodology for this purpose. The methodology is trialled here on three urban development cases in the UK. Results provide important insights on the planning and design strategies for resilience as well as an indication of the physical configuration of resilient urban forms. The thesis is concluded with a discussion on the importance of new professional tools for facilitating the delivery of resilient places and with the conclusions of the investigation.
    Date of Award2013
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University

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