Urban Studies Urban Resilience
Hendrikje Alpermann, Moritz Fürst, Maede Hedayatifard, Irem Ince Keller, Jean Ruegg, Maurice Yip
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 May 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922481-0078


The concept of urban resilience has gained increasing attention not only among academic researchers, but also among urban practitioners and policymakers since the 2010s, after its initial emergence in the 2000s, a time when cities faced different types of urban disturbances and felt the urgent need to address them with encompassing policies. Over the years, urban resilience has been embedded in the global urban landscape through various urban policies, programs, and practices. Today, urban governance incorporates elements of urban resilience by improving infrastructure, making urban and territorial plans, and formulating risk management strategies. Urban resilience has close intellectual ties with some earlier work dating back to the second half of the 20th century in other fields of study, such as the conceptions of resilience in ecological studies, science and technology studies, development studies, and sustainability studies. But it is the urban dimension that distinguishes the idea and practices of urban resilience from other notions of resilience. Based on the understanding that cities are complex networks, recent studies draw attention to key factors in operationalizing urban resilience, such as spatial and temporal scales, different urban systems and their multi-scalar networks, historical background, and local specificities. This annotated bibliography organizes the burgeoning publications on urban resilience into three parts: the basics, the practices, and the critique. The basics part contains four sections: General Overviews and Definitions presents the debates over definitions of urban resilience; Conceptual Foundations considers groundbreaking works on urban resilience since the 2000s; Urban Shocks and Stresses introduces the works that clarify what counts as the disturbance that concerns scholars of urban resilience; the works presented in Urban Materialities and Specificities address an often overlooked, yet important, conceptual question about the meaning of the urban that makes urban resilience different from other forms of resilience. The four sections of the second part focus on how scholars have studied resilient practices in cities and how these practices inform, and are informed by, academic work: beginning with Implementation and Governance of Urban Resilience, this part goes through different arenas of urban resilience, including Infrastructure, Risk Management, Planning Theory, and Planning Practices. The third part, The Critique of Urban Resilience, presents the academic literature that challenges the conceptualization of urban resilience, questions the real-world consequences of urban resilience practices, and addresses the limitation of urban resilience in Western-centric urban studies scholarship.

General Overviews and Definitions

Urban studies scholars have long been interested in how cities respond to urban shocks and disasters, but it is only in the last two decades that they have developed the concept of urban resilience. Rogov and Rozenblat 2018 presents a meta-analysis of four decades of academic literature to trace the evolution of urban resilience discourses and their relationships with other relevant concepts and fields of study in urban studies. Even though there is a consensus that urban resilience is concerned with the capacity and ability of cities to move forward after experiencing certain crises, the definition of urban resilience itself is still contested in both academic and policy debates: whether a proactive or a passive approach, whether to restore or to innovate. Meerow, et al. 2016 provides a review of the literature on urban resilience and proposes a definition of urban resilience after clarifying the meaning of the two notions—“urban” and “resilience.” Following the proposed synthesized definition, Meerow and Newell 2019 argues that the concept of urban resilience can serve as a boundary object between multiple knowledge domains to enable policy interventions. Similarly, Burayidi 2019, analyzing a collection of case studies on urban resilience, not only stresses that definition itself is a process, but also argues for considering urban resilience as a boundary concept that is translated into urban planning and policy. Coaffee and Lee 2016 shares this view and considers urban and regional planning has a central role in addressing the issues included in the operational framework of urban resilience. Brantz and Sharma 2020 shows temporalities as a lens that helps shape the intellectual history and future of urban resilience. Moving to the policy domain, as part of a broader project on global inequalities and violence, Patel and Nosal 2016 considers fragility as a concept central to urban resilience, raising the humanistic concern about fragile cities in less developed countries in the debates. The Rockefeller Foundation and Arup 2014 also pays special attention to poor and vulnerable cities and discuss drivers and dimensions of urban resilience, with the aim of creating a City Resilience Index. Horney, et al. 2017, in the US context, develops a recovery checklist and metrics to measure the resilience of communities affected by disasters.

  • Brantz, Dorothee, and Avinash Sharma, eds. Urban Resilience in a Global Context: Actors, Narratives, and Temporalities. Bielefeld, Germany: Transcript, 2020.

    With an emphasis on temporalities, this edited volume collects essays on the ecologies and infrastructures of resilience. It presents empirical case studies of practical experiences of urban resilience in cities around the world, and also pays attention to the intellectual history and future of urban resilience. Shows that temporalities, among other aspects including actors and narratives, shape how the concept of urban resilience is defined and understood.

  • Burayidi, Michael A., ed. The Routledge Handbook of Urban Resilience. New York: Routledge, 2019.

    Serving as a convenient reader on urban resilience from a multidisciplinary perspective, this edited volume brings together a number of case studies of different urban systems and resilience building. The editors do not provide a single definition of urban resilience, but emphasize that there are different definitions and that definition itself is a process. They argue that urban resilience as a boundary concept is being translated into urban planning to reframe and permeate debates on urban change.

  • Coaffee, Jon, and Peter Lee. Urban Resilience: Planning for Risk, Crisis and Uncertainty. Planning, Environment, Cities. London: Palgrave, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-137-28884-4

    This monograph proposes that urban resilience provides an operational framework for reducing the multiple risks faced by cities and communities by ensuring that there are adequate levels of resources and capacity to mitigate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from a range of shocks and stresses. In defining urban resilience, it emphasizes the central role of urban and regional planning that addresses underlying risk factors and reduces the exposure and vulnerability of people and assets to a range of current and future hazards and threats.

  • Horney, Jennifer, Caroline Dwyer, Meghan Aminto, Philip Berke, and Gavin Smith. “Developing Indicators to Measure Post-Disaster Community Recovery in the United States.” Disasters 41.1 (2017): 124–149.

    DOI: 10.1111/disa.12190

    As a contribution to community resilience, this article develops and categorizes metrics to measure how well a community recovers from a particular disaster. The article provides an overview of the recovery plans of many coastal cities and establishes a community recovery checklist that addresses financial, process, social, public-sector aspects. Although the metrics developed are primarily situated in the US context, they can be referenced by cities in other regions.

  • Meerow, Sara, and Joshua P. Newell. “Urban Resilience for Whom, What, When, Where, and Why?” Urban Geography 40.3 (2019): 309–329.

    DOI: 10.1080/02723638.2016.1206395

    Argues that the concept of urban resilience, which the authors previously defined in Meerow, et al. 2016, serves as a boundary object that translates between different knowledge domains. Thus, this knowledge can interface with professional domains to achieve different policy agendas for climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.

  • Meerow, Sara, Joshua P. Newell, and Melissa Stults. “Defining Urban Resilience: A Review.” Landscape and Urban Planning 147 (2016): 38–49.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.11.011

    Enumerates the limitations of existing definitions of urban resilience and proposes an inclusive and flexible definition. Firstly, it defines “urban” as a complex, multi-scalar system composed of socio-ecological and socio-technical networks. It then defines urban resilience as the ability of an urban system to maintain or rapidly return to desired functions, to adapt, to change, and to quickly transform systems that limit adaptive capacity.

  • Patel, Ronak, and Leah Nosal. “Defining the Resilient City.” Centre for Policy Research, United Nations University, 2016.

    Part of a broader project to understand urban resilience in fragile cities in less developed countries that suffer from violence, disasters, inequalities, and various urban shocks and stresses. Examines how fragility characterizes urban resilience. In addition to urban systems, the proposed definition raises the humanistic concern that understands urban resilience as the capacity to activate protective qualities and processes at the individual, community, institutional, and system levels.

  • The Rockefeller Foundation and Arup. “City Resilience Framework.” New York: The Rockefeller Foundation, 2014.

    This think-tank report defines urban resilience as “the capacity of cities to function, so that the people living and working in cities—particularly the poor and vulnerable—survive and thrive” in the face of shocks. As part of the larger project to create a City Resilience Index, this report uses case studies to present the drivers that contribute to a city’s resilience. This report identifies four dimensions of urban resilience, including leadership and strategy, health and wellbeing, infrastructure and environment, as well as economy and society.

  • Rogov, Mikhail, and Céline Rozenblat. “Urban Resilience Discourse Analysis: Towards a Multi-Level Approach to Cities.” Sustainability 10.12 (2018): 4431.

    DOI: 10.3390/su10124431

    Presents a meta-analysis of nearly eight hundred papers to explore the evolution of urban resilience discourses over four decades. Visualizes the relationships between different key terms in the study of urban resilience. Also compares and contrasts the concept of urban resilience with other relevant concepts such as sustainability. Proposes a multi-level perspective that includes macro, meso, and micro levels to understand urban resilience.

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