Designing Resilient Cities: a Guide to Good Practice

Urban Futures Team

Research output: Book/ReportBook


Global urbanisation is increasing dramatically and most of the world’s population now lives in cities. The environmental impact of cities has received much attention in the global debate, making urban sustainability a top priority – for local and national governments, and for the people who live, work and recreate in urban areas. Sustainability is about putting in place solutions that will yield a positive legacy. Resilience is about putting in place solutions that are resistant to future uncertainties. Large investments are being made today to make our cities more sustainable; the success of these investments depends on their resilience and how the future develops. However, predicting the future is complex – perhaps the only certainties are that there will be change, and that we must learn to live within the resource limitations of our planet. Those involved in urban development and regeneration will influence the resilience and sustainability of our cities through their responses to influencing factors such as climate change, population growth, the global economy, and planning regulation. The Urban Futures Method aims to broaden the way we think about the form, function, and context of urban development and regeneration by focussing on the likely long-term performance of today’s urban design solutions, and their associated vulnerabilities. In this Guide, we present the Urban Futures Method to test the likely future performance of actions taken today in the name of sustainability, in a series of possible future scenarios in the year 2050. Examples of such solutions might be installing a green wall or designing for mixed use. If the proposed solutions work across a range of alternative futures, the investment is likely to prove robust; where there are very different outcomes depending on the future, the solution can either be adapted to create a more resilient outcome (ie it will continue to function in the face of change should the future turn out to be very different) regardless of the future, or implemented with some insight into its potential vulnerabilities. Incorporating a scenarios analysis based upon four distinct and plausible futures, the Urban Futures Method guides the user through the complexities of thinking about the impacts of future changes in key drivers. Scenario analysis cannot predict the changes, but can help decision-makers to plan for resilience and adaptation as a key part of project management, for both current activities and future strategies. People are able to think more broadly about the future and about the sustainability of today’s actions by considering ‘what-if’ questions for changes in society, technology, economy, environment and policy (STEEP). While the Urban Futures Method is independent of the chosen future scenarios, the method is illustrated using four scenarios specific to the UK urban context for the year 2050. It is important to note that the Urban Futures Method focuses on process – broadening the scoping of future risk. The usefulness of the result depends on asking the right questions. The methodology helps to raise questions that would not normally be asked, and provides a structure for exploring them with a view to enhancing the solution that is put into place. The Urban Futures Method is designed to assist in making strategic or detail-level decisions about investing in plans or projects related to urban development and regeneration. The results can be useful to a wide variety of public- and private- sector decision-makers, including community stakeholders, urban designers, planners, developers, architects, and engineers. It is applicable to sustainability solutions at all scales: from the planting of an individual street tree, to building systems such as appliances or water systems, to a mixed use policy implemented at a regional or national scale. How can we make robust decisions to achieve the lofty goals of sustainability and resilience when we truly do not know what the future will bring? The process of assessing the performance of a sustainability solution in a variety of futures aids practitioners in identifying those conditions necessary for its success and in assessing the likelihood that those conditions will be met in the future. By assessing the necessary conditions in various scenarios, the Urban Futures Method helps identify the causes and effects of a solution’s resilience in a methodical way such that risks are evident and the options for adapting the solution are made clearer. Note that it does not assess the current viability of the solution to deliver sustainability benefits today, as its performance is strongly context dependent. Nor does it define the local sustainability priorities, which form part of the local context.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherIHS BRE Press
Number of pages126
ISBN (Print)978-1-84806-253-5
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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