Farrer On ... Building greater resilience into our cities

Recently I attended RIBA's Resilient Cities conference in London. I like the concept of resilience and how it captures the varied pressures that a city faces. George Ferguson, mayor of Bristol, spoke about how "complexity makes life more interesting" and recognised that for a place to be successful it must be able to contain different pressures.

The basic premise behind the resilient city is that by learning to address the everyday stresses such as unemployment, antisocial behaviour or clean air as well as major ones such as flooding, loss of power or drought you will have the necessary processes to be able to meet future challenges in a way that means the city can continue to function.

This is more than just jargon. It is an idea that has people at its core. It is beginning to seriously challenge traditional masterplanning principles, looking instead at alternative urban models. This is a breath of fresh air - its unwillingness to look for simplistic outcomes sets it apart. When cities are viewed this way, design becomes more about actions and processes than aesthetic - it becomes about sharing knowledge and connecting things instead of imposing change. It looks to find ways of engaging communities, not exhausting them.

It is this joined-up thinking that starts to engage with the environmental agenda. Those concerned with the environment offer far more than community garden initiatives. We can unlock many issues, from flooding and health to economics.

Environmental decisions demand long-term outcomes. They are by nature global in perspective and require a commitment that will outlive most political careers. This has always been the challenge for landscape-led solutions, but perhaps things are changing.

I hope that we will hear much more about resilience and move beyond the traditional models of change to begin embracing the complex natural systems in our cities in a way that enables landscape to be connected to people's lives. Only this way will our cities become richer and more resilient.

Noel Farrer is a founding partner of Farrer Huxley Associates

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