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 

Teresa Farinha -  teresafarinhaf@gmail.com

Luis Orozco - luis.orozco@univ-tlse2.fr 

Diego Osorio - diego@osorio.ca 


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 objective of the class is to write a single report on urban resilience (co-authored by all students). Students should organize themselves (editor in chief, section editors,...) to research, present ideas, and write this report (10,000 words max). Each student should be individually responsible for at least 2-3 paragraphs in the overall report (~450 words). The overall grade for the class will be based on the weekly presentations (25%), the individual parts of the report - i.e. the 2-3 paragraphs (25%), and the grade of the final report (50%).  The deadline to send the report (by email with subject line "report GEO4-3634" to Teresa and Pierre-Alex) is April 12. There is no exam for this class. 


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 1: Complexity Theory


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: Economic resilience 


Topics covered
- Sustainable urban wealth creation in a changing global economy
- Limit the local impact of local/global crises

- Urban economic resilience initiatives over the world



- Balland, P.A., Rigby, D., and Boschma, R. (2015) The Technological Resilience of U.S. Cities , Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 8 (2): 167-184

- Ed Glaeser's take on Boston Urban Economic Resilience 


Week 3: Social justice and equality


Topics covered

- Sharing wealth in cities

- The new urban crisis

- Big cities, small communities? 



- Florida, R. (2017) The new urban crisis: How our cities are increasing inequality, deepening segregation, and failing the middle class and what we can do about it. New York, NY: Basic Books.

- Whose city is it ? By Saskia Sassen 


Week 4: AI & the city


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.

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

Week 5: Environmental resilience 


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: Governance and planning 


Topics covered






Week 7: Transition economies


Topics covered






Week 8: Presentation day