Steele, Wendy, and Nidhi Mittal. 2012. In Resilient Cities 2, edited by Konrad Otto-Zimmermann, 187–95. Local Sustainability 2. Springer Netherlands.
Cities and their institutions are key players in building urban resilience to the risks posed by climate change. However, neoliberal policies further the transition from the state as the ultimate risk manager within urban settlements towards the private sector, households and individuals. Such shifts have significant justice and equity implications for climate change adaptation at the local level, particularly for the most vulnerable (i.e. children living in urban poverty). Drawing on examples from both developed and developing countries, the key challenges for building ‘equitable’ urban resilience through climate change adaptation measures at the metropolitan scale are highlighted.
Steele and Mittal discuss in their chapter the key concepts of resilience and equity in the urban environment. The urban planning discipline centers around this challenge: how do we as professionals provide for the greater public good, health, safety and general welfare? The planning profession is also grounded in design for the ‘habitation’ within communities in a fashion that attempts to accommodate all users, all needs, with ideally the least intrusive methods possible. Despite admirable intentions, planners bear some of the responsibility for numerous historic failures (e.g.urban renewal, building in the floodplain, etc). In reaction to legendary failures, today communities increasingly succumb to planning for economic benefit for some of the population, rather than social, cultural or environmental benefit for all. Yet, the very foundation of planning is the quest to find that balance of habitation in creating the places where we recreate, socialize, purchase goods and services, sleep, eat, and find peace within a framework of diversity and harmony with nature. Planning against nature and natural processes can be more expensive in the long run and against even our own inclinations to be aligned with the environment. Cities in the U.S. reveal through concrete culvers and excessively large spans of pavement a reverence for an engineered world and deem this as normal, in fact as “progress”. This domination of the world is viewed as our right and perhaps obligation to make money and jobs for some. But intuitively each human knows that we do not thrive in concrete jungles, it is not where we quite belong.
Concepts of biomimicry, biophilia, low-impact development and the re-intersection of the public health and planning professions have audiences because while we may be the dominant creature, in fact we are a part of, not separate from, nature. What is interesting is the notion of rights. We decide what rights we give, perhaps from places of power. Animals, water, Mother Earth, seemingly are given “rights” from us, either because of our benevolence or our realization that their failure and demise is intimately linked to ours. In the Anthropocene, given the notion “the strong do what they can, the weak suffer what they must” (Thucydides), what motivation do we give ourselves to create habitability for all? When are housing, clean air and water, and safety from known risks to health in fact a “right”? Certainly nature does not give rights to itself. It operates within the resources it has, the cycles and systems it has perfected. So if we are to suggest we are taking survival to the next step of ‘survival-plus’ then doesn’t that suggest that we are seeking to have basic habitatability – housing, work, healthy places, recreation, food and so forth – for all, not just a few?