EAUH Conference 2018


Session M26. Imagining Resilient Cities: Comparative Historical Perspectives on “Resilience” from 1800 to the Present

Coordinators: Dorothee Brantz (, Avinash Sharma (

In the 10 years since the on-set of the financial crisis, “resilience” has joined “sustainability” as a key part of planning discourse. From disaster management to community building, financial institutions to urban infrastructure, it appears that everyone wants to build “more resilient cities.” The Bloomberg and Rockefeller Foundations have resilient cities programming, as do the World Bank, Asia Development Bank, and dozens of other mega-organizations. Advocates of more resilient cities believe that planning can enhance the capacity of subnational actors to respond to crisis scenarios.

As resilience discourse has gained in popularity, critics increasingly ask whether this is another neoliberal stratagem for pushing responsibility for extreme situations onto small scale actors. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, for example, it was widely noted that politicians and media outlets praised the resilience of city residents – their ability to survive and, in some cases, to rebuild – only after the Local, State and Federal Government failed to contain a slow-moving catastrophe. For critics, resilience is the mask that hides the face of the shrinking state.

The session will attempt to provide a better understanding of “resilient cities” as objects of planning discourse, and as actually existing cities by asking:

-Is “resilience” a new category, and if so, what are its histories and logics?
-What role do nature, environment, and ecology play in resilient cities?
-Does resilience mean different things in different national/regional settings?
-Does it have class, race, and gender components?
-What constitutes a resilient city, and does that resilience apply to all manner of crisis (e.g., drought, war, financial crisis, natural disaster, terrorism)?
-Does the state play a significant role in resilient cities, or is resilience the territory of civil society actors?

This session particularly encourages historically informed inquiries that try to link the past and present of “resilient cities.” We also encourage comparative perspectives that include different regions of the world and different kinds of resilience.

Ultimately, we hope to shed light on issues including the geographically and historically changing logics of “resilience,” the role of nature as resource and threat, and the inclusionary and exclusionary aspects of resilient cities among others.

Keywords: resilience; resilient cities; environment; financial crisis; conflict; climate change; sustainable development