Urban Resilience - GEO4-3634

Course description

In this course, we ask why some cities are able to survive major shocks, crises and sustained periods of decline while others ultimately collapse. In a global context of climate change, rapid urbanization, population growth, financial crises, and rising inequality this question is becoming increasingly prominent on the political agenda. Resilience theory has a long history in psychology, engineering, and ecology. It usually refers to the capacity of a system to 'bounce back', or in the context of complex social-ecological systems to the capacity of a system to continuously change and adapt its structure to changing economic, social and environmental conditions while maintaining its essential function. Understanding urban resilience, therefore, requires adopting a multi-level (social, economic, environmental, and political) view of the structure of urban systems. Understanding cities as complex adaptative systems deeply challenge our understanding of cities/regions and the role of urban and regional policy. In resilience thinking, what can be considered efficient (optimal) in the short run can also contradict with long-run sustainability, global sustainability, or the resilience of another city? Urban resilience is, therefore, a very complex question that requires rapid and flexible responses that often are context specific. As a result, the emerging research community working on urban resilience and urban sustainable development is dispersed, methodologically diverse, and lack coherence and academic consensus. Meanwhile, 'resilience initiatives' and concrete related actions are mushrooming in cities worldwide. Therefore a key objective of this course will be to develop student's critical reasoning. To reach this objective, this course will consist of weekly class discussions, and students will learn:


What you will learn

1. Elements of complexity theory
2. What is resilience and what makes complex adaptative systems resilient? 
3. Evaluate the resilience of what to what?
4. How does urban resilience relate to global sustainability? 
5. How to integrate the economic, social, environmental, and political dimensions for sustainable urban development?  
6. How to apply resilience thinking for sustainable urban development? 


Meet the instructors 

Pierre-Alexandre Balland - p.balland@uu.nl

Ron Boschma - R.A.Boschma@uu.nl 


Structure of the class

We will meet weekly to actively discuss a specific dimension of urban resilience (economic, social, environmental...). The discussion will be opened by the lecturer to set the daily agenda, clarify key concepts, and highlight the main questions to be discussed. A group of students will then present their vision of this issue (based on journal articles, reports, case studies) and open the floor for discussion with other students. Students should use real-world examples of resilient cities as much as possible. Students are also strongly encouraged to draw upon their own background, reading, perceptions, and experiences.



The overall grade for the class will be based on an individual research paper (80%) and a presentation in class (20%).

Research paper

The research paper can be very academic (i.e. what is urban resilience and how to measure it), or very applied (i.e. how can Dutch cities limit the spread of COVID-19?). Each student will focus on a specific urban resilience issue and discuss the extent and the causes of this issues (academic) or how to solve this problem (applied) using an urban resilience and complexity science perspective. Remember that in the lectures and tutorials we discussed the topic of urban resilience from multiple perspectives (economic, social, environmental, governance) and we particularly insisted on the complex inter-connections between them. Make sure not to treat your urban resilience problem as a simple , non-linear issue. The preliminary idea will be presented by students during individual meetings (feed-back session on week 12). Please make sure to sign-up for the feedback sessions here and send a 1-page description of your idea to your instructor (Prof. Boschma or Prof. Balland) by March 15. You will then have 1 week to integrate the feed-back and prepare the presentation of your idea on week 13. The final version of the paper should be 1,500-word long maximum (excluding references) and contain graphics. The deadline to send the report is April 7. You need to upload your report to this folder (please do not send the report by email) as a PDF. 


There is no class reader. The slide decks and PDFs for the weekly readings are provided here. All articles listed should be considered mandatory reading. Additional materials will be assigned throughout the quarter and sent by students.


Course Schedule

Week  |        Day        |   Date  |        Time        |       Activity      |          Lecturer       |  Room  


   06     |    Thursday   |  06/02  |  09:30-10:45  |      Lecture 1      |        Balland            |  BBG 075

   06     |    Thursday   |  06/02  |  11:00-12:30  |      Tutorial 1      |        Balland            |  BBG 075

   07     |    Thursday   |  13/02  |  09:30-10:45  |      Lecture 2      |        Boschma          |  KRUYT - O126

   07     |    Thursday   |  13/02  |  11:00-12:30  |      Tutorial 2      |        Boschma          |  KRUYT - O126

   08     |    Thursday   |  20/02  |  09:30-10:45  |      Lecture 3      |        Balland             |  BBG 115

   08     |    Thursday   |  20/02  |  11:00-12:30  |      Tutorial 3      |        Balland             |  BBG 115

   09     |    Thursday   |  27/02  |  09:30-10:45  |      Lecture 4      |         Boschma         |  Ruppert 033

   09     |    Thursday   |  27/02  |  11:00-12:30  |      Tutorial 4      |         Boschma         |  Ruppert 033

   10     |    Thursday   |  05/03  |  09:30-10:45  |      Lecture 5      |         Balland             |  BBG 075

   10     |    Thursday   |  05/03  |  11:00-12:30  |      Tutorial 5      |         Balland             |  BBG 075

   11     |    Thursday   |  12/03  |  09:30-10:45  |      Lecture 6      |         Boschma          |  Ruppert 111

   11     |    Thursday   |  12/03  |  11:00-12:30  |      Tutorial 6      |         Boschma          |  Ruppert 111

   12     |    Thursday   |  19/03  |  09:30-10:45  |      Feed-back     |  Balland/Boschma  |  Instructor room

   12     |    Thursday   |  19/03  |  11:00-12:30  |      Feed-back     |  Balland/Boschma  |  Instructor room

   14     |     Tuesday    |  31/03  |  13:15-17:00  |   Presentations  |       Balland               |  Online


Week 1: Complexity Theory [Balland] - SLIDES


Topics covered
- Overview of class
- Introduction to urban resilience & sustainability: framing key challenges

- Key thinkers in complexity theory

- What is complexity and how to measure it?

- Complex structures

- Emergence, self-organization, criticality, and phase transition

- Key opportunities and challenges for complexity theory


- Kauffman, S. A. (1991) The Sciences of Complexity and 'Origins of Order' , SFI working papers: 1-25. 
- Newman, M. E. J. (2011) Complex Systems: A Survey , American Journal of Physics 79: 800-810.

- Weaver, W. (1948) Science and complexity , American Scientist, 36: 536. 

- UN-Habitat Urban Resilience Programme


Week 2:  Resilience and economic geography [Boschma] - SLIDES


Topics covered

Complexity thinking in Economic Geography
- Different forms of Regional Resilience
- Evolutionary Perspective on Regional Resilience



- Martin, R. and P. Sunley (2007) Complexity thinking and evolutionary economic geography, Journal of Economic Geography 7 (5), 753-601.

- Martin, R. (2012) Regional economic resilience, hysteresis and recessionary shocks, Journal of Economic Geography 12, 1–32.

- Boschma, R. (2015) Towards an evolutionary perspective on regional resilience. Regional Studies 49, (5), 733-751



Week 3: AI & the city [Balland] - SLIDES


Topics covered

- What is AI?

- How AI will affect jobs?

- Which cities will gain/lose in the new AI world?



- Frey, C. B., & Osborne, M. A. (2017). The future of employment: how susceptible are jobs to computerisation?. Technological forecasting and social change, 114, 254-280.

- Balland, P.A. and Boschma R. (2019) Mapping the potential of EU regions to contribute to Industry 4.0, Papers in Evolutionary Economic Geography 19 (25), 1-21. 

- How will automation affect different U.S. Cities by Morgan Frank et al. 

- Uncovering tomorrow’s innovation hotspots (The Economist)


Week 4: Economic Resilience [Boschma] - SLIDES


Topics covered

- Labour dynamics and resilience

- Long-term resilience of cities



- Diodato, D. and Weterings, A. B. (2015). The resilience of regional labour markets to economic shocks. Exploring the role of interactions among firms and workers, Journal of Economic Geography 15 (4), 723-742.

- Balland, P.-A., Rigby, D. L., and Boschma, R. (2015). The technological resilience of US cities, Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 8(2), 167-184.

- Steijn, M., R. Boschma, P. Balland and D. Rigby (2019) Technological Diversification of U.S. Cities during the Great Historical Crises, Papers in Evolutionary Economic Geography, no. 19.01, Utrecht University, Utrecht.

Week 5: Environmental resilience [Balland] - SLIDES


Topics covered

- Climate change, sustainable development and energy transition
- What challenges for developing countries/regions highly endowed with hydrocarbons resources?
- Low-carbon transition in cities



-  Geels, F. W. (2018). Low-carbon transition via system reconfiguration? A socio-technical whole system analysis of passenger mobility in Great Britain (1990–2016). Energy Research & Social Science, 46, 86–102. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.ERSS.2018.07.008
- Boyd, E., & Juhola, S. (2015). Adaptive climate change governance for urban resilience. Urban studies, 52(7), 1234-1264.


Week 6: Institutions and urban resilience [Boschma] - SLIDES


Topics covered

- Defining and measuring institutions 

- Policy intervention and the re-invention of cities



- Boschma, R. and G. Capone (2015) Institutions and diversification: Related versus unrelated diversification in a varieties of capitalism framework, Research Policy 44, 1902-1914.
- Cortinovis, N., J. Xiao, R. Boschma and F. van Oort (2017) Quality of government and social capital as drivers of regional diversification in Europe, Journal of Economic Geography 17 (6), 1179–1208.

- Dawley S, Mackinnon D, Cumbers A, Pike A. Policy activism and regional path creation: the promotion of offshore wind in North East England and Scotland. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 2015, 8(2), 257-272.