Resilience by Design

What is Urban Resilience?
Matthijs Bouw 

The Certificate in Urban Resilience is administered by Chair and Professor of Landscape Architecture Richard Weller and directed by Matthijs Bouw, Rockefeller Urban Resilience Fellow at the School of Design. This certificate draws on the resilience expertise within the different departments of the School, and builds upon a rich legacy at Penn rooted in Ian McHarg’s layered analysis methods of thinking holistically across systems and scales to offer a foundational program for "resilience by design." Additionally, the certificate includes a flexible set of courses offered at the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design, as well as at Wharton and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. The certificate is intended for professional graduate students enrolled at the Weitzman interested in adding an understanding of urban resilience, and how to design within a risky and uncertain world, to their list of educational qualifications.

The term resilience has different meanings in different domains. Often it is defined simply as the ability to deal with specific shocks or stresses. Resilience, for example, is easily equated with flood risk management. In general, in the engineering world the term is used as the ability to withstand or bounce back from shocks or stresses. Such simple definitions not only run the risk of overlooking the distinctions between damage mitigation, resilience and adaptation, they also misrepresent the transformative potential of the concept. The use of the more complex definition of (urban) resilience, as the "capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, business, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience" (100 Resilient Cities), challenges us to think in terms of our urban systems as complex and adaptive. Designing in these types of systems forces designers to work interdisciplinary, at different (time-)scales simultaneously, in both the social and the physical domain, and accept and embrace emergence and uncertainty. While the certificate wants to offer students understanding of challenges such as climate change and inequality, and offer concrete tools in analyzing, communicating, managing and strategizing about these challenges "by design," it also wants to re-think the position of the design disciplines in the face of fundamental uncertainty and lack of control, and show students how designers can have agency by participating in cities as "complex adaptive systems."