Op-Ed: The Resilient City
By Jonathan Erwin
Resilience has become common rhetoric in recent times to describe the survival and perseverance of place or person through crisis. In light of events like Hurricane Sandy or the recent economic crisis, resilience has surfaced as a label for those who survived unharmed and/ or possibly even grew stronger from adversity. When applied to design, resilience is usually placed with green building techniques and storm resistant structures. At an urban scale, resilience manifests as stormwater management and localized energy production. These components are useful and needed, but resilience is much more than environmental benefit. The lecture series examines resilience, across many forms, identifying common themes that bridge disciplines on how cities are resilient, and how practitioners can work together to better equip us for the future.
Beyond the context of the built world, larger systems affect every component of daily life. Design contributes a key voice, among a symphony of players and expertise - a voice that helps to spur development and continual change. In response to this, the Lecture Series has taken a greater perspective, gathering speakers from multiple disciplines in the urban theatre. The backgrounds of lecturers and panelists vary, each offering unique insights on how cities react and pursue opportunity in crisis. Through the lens of resilience, we are hoping to expose a common narrative that can play a role in our practice and inform the work of others.
Individually, each speaker has a story and distinctive perspective. Dr. Mindy Fullilove, a trained psychiatrist and author, studies the city in terms of restitching broken and fragmented networks. After decades of observing the dynamic relationships of people coping with disease, re-development and loss, she promotes steps forward towards a collective recovery. She helps to expose opportunities to mend not only the localized communities, but also many of the larger issues.
Winy Maas, the dutch urbanist and architect, takes a slightly different tack with his work. His playfulness with form and program speaks to another concept of resilience - a rethinking of traditional roles. His innovative approaches play off strong juxtapositions, leading to ideas that challenge our means of understanding and allow us to view context in a new light. Regardless of scale, his work consistently has the ability to bring together a variety of parts with unity and harmony. His work as a collective whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Our first panel gives us insight into to how communities are made and sustained, and how collective involvement is critical in overcoming adversity. From geographic backgrounds ranging from New Orleans to Detroit to Baltimore, we see how our country is engaging all walks of life. They emphasize and elaborate on a common language, promoting a participatory model of inclusiveness and ownership regardless of background, race, or socioeconomic status. This unilateral encouragement and acceptance is critical in building resilience and ensuring longevity in practice as the larger concept becomes incorporated in the urban narrative.
Tom Leader, is a renowned landscape architect with work and practice spanning the globe. His work emphasizes respecting and honoring a culture of place. Diving deeper than present context, he expands the role of the built world to enrich a sense of memory. By knowing where we have come from, he creates historically motivated systems that incorporates and responds to modern shifts and challenges. The balance between the new and the old reflect an optimistic view of the world, and our shifting environmental and economic climate.
Our last major event speaks of the longevity of a resilient city. Our panelists include policy makers and practitioners from the bureaucratic to grassroots level, creating institutional knowledge and capacity to continue the resilient momentum. This panel will use New York City as a precedent, a city that has continually adapted to adversity and unexpected crisis. They will demonstrate how every level of a movement must be supported and encouraged to participate within a resilience city, and how collective knowledge, inclusivity and participation encourages policy and institutes sustainable change that is accessible for all.
The series exposes a large breadth of what makes a resilient city. In thinking about Baltimore, many of these lessons and perspectives are already in place or can easily be applied to make our own city more resilient. Baltimore and its surrounding region are an indicator of strong positive growth in our country. We have a rich multi-faceted history that demonstrates the city’s past resiliency. Poised for a new chapter, Baltimore faces new challenges for designers, activists, government officials and residents to create a city ready and determined to manage, survive, and grow through whatever may come next.
The 2014 AIA Baltimore Lecture Series hopes to expose opportunity. Through collaboration and understanding, we hope that new challenges we face as designers and practitioners in the coming years will inspire us. We are stronger together in creating a resilient city. By creating new models of engagement, realizing impact, thinking holistically and adopting lessons from other disciplines, we hope that this year you leave with a sense of urgency, but also a sense of optimism about the future ahead.