Urban resilience for local government: Concepts, definitions and qualities

Transport on Swanston Street, Melbourne


Melanie Lowe, Sarah Bell, Jessie Briggs, Elissa McMillan, Merrick Morley, Maree Grenfell, David Sweeting, Alison Whitten and Nikki Jordan.

Published November, 2021.

Executive Summary

Urban resilience has emerged and rapidly developed as a concept to assist cities to prepare for, and respond to, shocks and stresses. This paper, and an accompanying Briefing Paper, provide an overview of the concepts, definitions, and qualities of urban resilience to better understand how to address the challenges of the future with the ideas of today. We specifically consider how resilience applies to local government in Australia, but the findings may be relevant to other jurisdictions in Australia and internationally.

Governments, communities, businesses and non-government organisations involved in building resilience, are asked to consider fundamental questions including resilience to what?, resilience of what?, and resilience for whom?. Early conceptions of resilience as the capacity for a system to ‘bounce-back’ from shocks and stresses have matured to consider opportunities to ‘bounce-forward’. ‘Evolutionary resilience’, the concept adopted in this paper, goes further to consider potential for transformation of dynamic systems such as cities.

This paper defines urban resilience as:

The capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses and systems
within a city to adapt, survive, and thrive no matter what kind of chronic stresses
and acute shocks we experience, and to positively transform as a result.

From an evolutionary perspective, resilience has four aspects or characteristics: recovery, persistence, adaptive capacity and transformative capacity. Resilient urban systems have 10 core qualities: prepared, robust, spare capacity, diverse, reflective, integrated, inclusive, flexible, future-focused, and innovative. Sustainable development—meeting the needs of the current and future generations—provides a purpose for resilience, seeking thriving, equitable and ecologically robust urban outcomes.

Resilience-building focuses on processes and approaches to designing, delivering and evaluating urban systems and programs, to ensure sustainable cities can persist, adapt and transform in the face of growing ecological, economic and social uncertainty. A framework for urban resilience consisting of the definition, characteristics and qualities provides the basis for implementing resilience across local government policy, projects and operations, and in partnership with communities and stakeholders.

Download the Issues Paper

We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we work, and pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging.

This Issues Paper, and the accompanying Briefing Paper, are outputs of the City of Melbourne
Chair in Urban Resilience and Innovation, which is an ongoing research partnership between
The University of Melbourne and the City of Melbourne.