Designing and Building For the Resilient City

  • Apr 18, 2016

Over the past few years the conversation about cities has evolved to include resiliency.  A resilient city is one that has the necessary capacity to meet the challenges of the future.

Although no city can be entirely safe from natural hazards, a resilient city is ready to absorb and recover from any shock, stress or challenge, while maintaining its essential daily functions, existing structures and identity, and adapt and thrive in the face of continual change. And while cities can be affected by acute shocks like sudden events — earthquakes, floods, disease outbreaks and terrorist activities — challenges also can come in the form of a disruptive stress like the Ebola outbreak or long-term societal stresses such as high unemployment, inefficient public transportation systems, violence and chronic food and water shortages.

According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), cities are now home to over half the world’s population – 3.96 billion people – a number expected to grow to 5.1 billion by 2030. Widespread urbanization concentrates risks in cities, which can become more vulnerable to shocks and stresses.

As architects, construction and sustainability experts we have a role to play to ensure more resilient buildings and cities. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) supports policies, programs and practices that promote adaptable and resilient buildings and communities.  The group is partnering with 100 Resilient Cities to provide resources to assist Architects to create safe, secure and resilient cities.  A few ways we can contribute include:

  • Seeing the environment as a key driver in how a building is designed. With an increase in extreme weather events, designers should focus on strategies to resist severe wind load, heavy precipitation and ground-level flooding.
  • Considering extreme temperatures: Considerations for siting and shading a building as well as high levels of insulation in an attempt to reduce heat gain is important in the event building operations fail due to extreme heat or cold conditions.
  • Evaluating water stresses: With the combination of population rise and water shortages, it is important to evaluate use of graywater and storm water for irrigation and reuse within the building in order to combat drought conditions.

If cities are to be resilient to challenges in the future we must build them today. According to the Rockefeller Foundation, “Building resilience cannot be done by a single actor or sector, no matter how innovative or passionate they may be.” Community problems require community-based solutions. After all, the resilient, future city is not a matter of building structures, it’s about building communities.

Dallas, the city where our corporate headquarters is located, is now one of the cities participating in the 100 Resilient Cities program supported by the Foundation.  Boulder, El Paso, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, New Orleans and Tulsa are other U.S. cities that are participating. Specifically, the resiliency challenges Dallas faces are:

  • Aging infrastructure
  • Chronic energy shortages
  • Flooding
  • Infrastructure failure
  • Terrorism

The city, like others, who have taken on the challenge, has hired a Chief Resiliency Officer,  Theresa O’Donnell, to develop a plan to tackle some of these challenges. “It is remarkable to be a member of this global community of cities and we are honored to be included in this effort,” she says.

To learn more about the work Dallas is doing, sign up to participate in the workshop “Resilient Texas Forum at Earth Day Texas” on Friday, April 22, 2016, hosted by AIA Dallas, Downtown Dallas Inc., Greater Dallas Planning Council, ULI North Texas and USGBC.