Arup Fellow & Group Board Member
How Resilience Unleashes Innovation
Considering today’s growing urban populations and exponential advances in technology, metropolitan areas play an unprecedented role in supporting innovation and infrastructure. With a sense of nostalgic optimism, the anxieties and uncertainties about our future can be met by resilience and progressive pragmatism. When contemplating how resilience unleashes innovation, we must consider how resilience itself can be enhanced by that innovation. There are three challenges to the underlying assumptions about urban resilience and its importance in the cities of today and tomorrow.
First, the example of the Haiti earthquakes and the Katrina Hurricane illustrate that resilience is generally ignored until there is a disruptive event. When faced with such disastrous challenges, a lack of resilience may be exposed – while at the same time the value of vigilant and resilient individuals, companies and cities resurges. However, the recovery process in the aftermath of such events is where the true potential for innovation seems to lie. Thus, catastrophes can in fact become transfigured catalysts of change allow us to progress.
Second, innovation does not necessarily improve resilience. In fact, it is important to take a critical view on how each new product affects the resilience of the system of which it is a part. This is what we might think of as resilience value. The example of the self-driving car shows that, while we are beginning to reach a consensus that walkable neighborhood communities support strong and resilient social structures, the excitement around innovation itself and the corporate hypes about the social good can collide.
Third, the idea that resilience unleashes innovation is challenged by the increasing skepticism towards innovation as an agent of disruption. This creative destruction will of course lead to massive readjustments in our society, hopefully ones that will make our communities and cities more resilient.
In this vein, one of the main innovations that has come out of recent crises like Katrina in New Orleans, Sandy in New York, Fukushima and Haiti is an improved analytical understanding on what it takes to truly make a city resilient. This innovation is the Cities Resilience Index, funded by Rockefeller Foundation and developed in collaboration with Arup: a comprehensive framework of the factors that determine resilience. It is based on the idea that what truly matters is a city’s capacity to function – to deliver services during both ordinary and extraordinary times. The four main pillars are: a) Health and Wellbeing focusing on individuals, b) Economy and Society covering interpersonal relationships and institutions maintaining the rule of law, c) Infrastructure and Ecosystems providing services we rely on and d) Leadership and Strategy maintaining resilience in times between crises.
The constraints of catastrophes usually improve the design process and the results yet the challenges we face must first be clearly articulated and prioritized. This way, the future will hold a more level society in an increasingly technological world with diverse likelihoods, interesting work and a focus on public good.
Fiona Cousins is an Arup Fellow and a member of Arup’s Americas Region Board. She helps lead the sustainability, building engineering and data strategies teams in Arup’s New York office, and directs technical and research investments for the Americas Region. A mechanical engineer by profession, she has spent much of her career engaged in HVAC design, with an area of specialization in thermal comfort and energy efficiency. As a sustainability and resilience consultant Fiona has deep experience working with a broad range of stakeholders to establish clear and decisive direction that has a significant impact on sustainability and resilience outcomes.