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Coastal Resilience: What Is It?
THE CONCEPT OF RESILIENCE has emerged in the last decade as an important new way of thinking about the design and planning of coastal communities and regions. C. S. Holling's work on ecological resilience, beginning in the early 1970s, is often identified as the beginning point of discussions about resilience and its application to natural and social systems. Holling (1973, 9) speaks of the resilience of ecosystems as "the capacity of a system to absorb and utilize or even benefit from perturbations and changes that attain it, and so persist without a qualitative change in the system's structure."
The word resilience derives from the Latin resiliere, "to jump back" or "rebound," and in common usage refers to the ability to easily or quickly bounce back from a disturbance or crisis (Paton 2006). More specifically, when speaking of resilience in relation to coastal regions and communities, the themes of flexibility, adaptability, and durability are prominent in recent planning and management literature.
Resilience is further defined in the literature as
the measure of how quickly a system recovers from failures (Emergency Management Australia 1998, as quoted in Buckle 2006, 90)
the capacity to draw upon personal and social resources to manage the consequences of disasters (Paton, McClure, and Bürgelt 2006, 106)
the ability of a community to not only deal with adversity but in doing so reach a higher level of functioning (J. Kulig, as cited in Pooley, Cohen, and O'Connor 2006, 163)
the potential of a system to remain in a particular configuration and to maintain its feedbacks and functions, and [involving] the ability of the system to reorganize following disturbance-driven change (Walker et al. 2002)
Berke and Campanella (2006, 193) define resiliency in the context of natural disasters as follows:
Achieving resiliency in a disaster context means the ability to survive future natural disasters with minimum loss of life and property, as well as the ability to create a greater sense of place among residents; a stronger, more diverse economy; and a more economically integrated and diverse population.
And, as Godschalk (2003) notes:
A resilient community is one that lives in harmony with nature's varying cycles and process. (p. 137)
Godschalk argues compellingly for a vision of resilient cities, and that resilience should be the "overriding goal" of urban hazard mitigation (italics mine):
Such cities would be capable of withstanding severe shock without either immediate chaos or permanent harm. Designed in advance to anticipate, weather, and recover from the impacts of natural or terrorist hazards, resilient cities would be built on principles derived from past experience with disasters in urban areas. While they might bend from hazard forces, they would not break. Composed of networked social communities and lifeline systems, resilient cities would become stronger by adapting to and learning from disasters. (pp. 136–37)
Resilient cities are constructed to be strong and flexible, rather than brittle and fragile. Their lifeline systems of roads, utilities, and other support facilities are designed to continue functioning in the face of rising water, high winds, shaking ground, and terrorist attacks. Their new development is guided away from known high hazard areas, and their vulnerable existing development is relocated to safe areas. Their buildings are constructed or retrofitted to meet code standards based on hazard threats. Their natural environmental protective systems are conserved to maintain valuable hazard mitigation functions. Finally, their governmental, non- governmental, and private sector organizations are prepared with up-to-date information about hazard vulnerability and disaster resources, as linked with effective communication networks, and are experienced in working together. (p.137)
Resilience is often viewed as an antidote to vulnerability. Resilient communities work to reduce or even eliminate vulnerability. Vulnerability might be defined "as the conditions determined by physical, social, economic, and environmental factors or processes, which increase the susceptibility of a community to loss from hazard impacts" (UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, as quoted in Buckle 2006, 90). Greater detail on the ways in which coastal communities and regions are vulnerable is provided in subsequent chapters of this book.
The notion of adaptive capacity —the idea that it is not simply possible or even desirable to return to a former condition; that entities (people, organizations, communities) should strive to learn from and creatively respond to disasters and disruptive events and trends; and that they should evolve and move from a crisis or disaster to a new and perhaps improved (but undoubtedly different) set of circumstances—is often a key feature in definitions of resilience. Resilience, then, according to Paton (2006, 8), is "a measure of how well people and societies can adapt to a changed reality and capitalize on the new possibilities offered." Recent coastal disaster events, such as Hurricane Katrina (see fig. 1.1), show compellingly the need to be ready to adapt to, and take advantage of, changed conditions and circumstances.
Implicit in the notion of resilience is an emphasis on taking actions and steps to build the adaptive capacity, to be ready ahead of a crisis or disaster. Resilience is anticipatory, conscious, and intentional in its outlook; while much cannot be known about future events, much can be anticipated, and planning ahead becomes a key aspect of resilience.
Resilience and Hazard Mitigation
Hazard mitigation has for several decades been the term within the natural hazards community for describing long-term anticipatory planning. More specifically, hazard mitigation refers to all the actions, steps, programs, and policies that can be adopted today to reduce loss of life and property damage in the event of a natural disaster (Godschalk et al. 1999).
Mitigation is often contrasted with preparedness and response activities. The focus in mitigation is on long-term, proactive steps (such as adopting and implementing building codes or construction standards, or prohibiting building in a high-risk coastal hazard zone), whereas preparedness and response actions are usually aimed at addressing fairly immediate health and safety concerns. Preparedness activities are those short-term actions undertaken immediately in advance of a natural disaster (e.g., evacuation in the face of an approaching hurricane); response activities are those actions taken immediately following an event (e.g., search and rescue, debris removal).
Planning for natural hazards is often conceptualized as occurring in four stages: (1) predisaster mitigation, (2) preparedness, (3) response, and (4) long-term recovery (fig. 1.2). Mitigation is viewed as possible, and as an essential goal, in the first and fourth of these stages. Many mitigative opportunities often emerge after a disaster event during the months and years of recovery. For example, it may be possible (and politically feasible) to put into place new development restrictions or stronger building standards after a large coastal storm; or there may be opportunities to relocate buildings and lifelines and to redesign infrastructure in ways that make them less vulnerable to the next disaster.
To a considerable extent, then, resilience has become the new way of talking about and advocating long-term mitigation. Resilience, however, differs from mitigation in at least two aspects: its focus on creative adaptation and learning and its focus on developing an underlying capacity.
While, historically, mitigation has meant physical changes (e.g., stronger build-ings), resilience is broader, connoting stronger social and community systems, and larger processes and mechanisms for facilitating effective response and recovery. There are certainly many physical design and building responses—for instance, elevating structures in the floodplain, or setting buildings back in areas subject to sea level rise—but community resilience must also be about developing supportive community institutions and networks that will help families and individuals to prepare for and respond to disaster events.
A philosophy of disaster resistance, on the other hand, implies a belief in our ability to armor or shield coastal communities and residents against the forces of nature. Seawalls, revetments, groins, jetties, and other shore-hardening structures reflect a disaster resistance approach; and beach renourishment, while a softer engineering strategy, still reflects an approach of resistance.
While structural shore hardening may be appropriate in some coastal circumstances, it is usually very costly and environmentally damaging, and it often offers a false sense of security or safety. For example, the 17-foot (5.2-meter) seawall at Galveston Island, Texas, only protects against a category 3 hurricane (for a complete explanation of the hurricane ranking system, see www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutsshs.shtml). As Burby (2006) documents well, over the years, levee construction in New Orleans has led to massive urbanization in risky locations and, paradoxically, more people and property in harm's way.
What is needed in shifting coastal communities toward resilience is not just new politics, new tools, and new programs; underpinning these approaches must be a new way of looking at coastal change, a new way of thinking—what Walker and Salt (2006, 32) call resilience thinking —a way of thinking that acknowledges the fact that we're embedded in interconnected "socio-ecological systems," that these systems are complex and adaptive, and that resilience is "the capacity to undergo some changes without crossing a threshold to a different system regime." Regime here means a particular state or set of conditions that provide important values and benefits.
Resilience, as Walker and Salt effectively argue, addresses the social and economic as well as the ecological and finds application to many resource management issues:
A resilient social-ecological system in a "desirable" state (such as a productive agricultural or industrial region) has a greater capacity to continue providing us with the goods and services that support our quality of life while being subjected to a variety of shocks. (p. 32)
It's all about seeing a farm/family/business region as a complex adaptive system that's constantly changing and adapting to a changing world. (p. 113)
Resilience is the capacity of this system to absorb change and disturbances, and still retain its basic structure and function—its identity. Resilience thinking is about envisaging a system in relation to thresholds. Is it approaching a threshold beyond which it will be in a new regime? What forces—economic, social and environmental—are driving the system toward this threshold? (p. 43)
Qualities of a Resilient Coastal Community
Walker and Salt (2006, 146) identify nine qualities or values that characterize a "resilient world" (box 1.1). While perhaps not all are immediately relevant to coastal hazards, they are useful to keep in mind. Resilience is characterized by diversity (biological, landscape, social, and economic) and by ecological variability (i.e., allowing ecosystems to change and move and "probe their boundaries"). A resilient world reflects a degree of modularity so that shocks and perturbations are controlled or contained. Slow, controlling variables receive emphasis in a resilient world; these are the ecological conditions or processes that help to control or stabilize change, such as the density of a key predator, or the nitrogen level in the soil, or the frequency of hurricanes. Tight feedbacks (i.e., how quickly and strongly the impacts of a change are felt) are an important quality in resilience, because they allow us to take actions and response steps before ecological and other thresholds are crossed (e.g., learning early that loss of coastal wetlands results in increasing coastal flooding might permit timely actions to prevent future losses).
A high degree of social capital is also viewed by Walker and Salt (2006, 47) as a very positive factor in promoting resilience:
Resilience in social-ecological systems is very strongly connected to the capacity of the people in that system to respond, together and effectively, to change any disturbance. Trust, strong networks, and leadership are all important factors in making sure this can happen.
Innovation (placing "an emphasis on learning, experimentation, locally developed rules, and embracing change" [p.147]); overlap in governance (redundancy in governance structures); and, finally, ecosystem services (including the otherwise unpriced services provided by nature in our policy and planning deliberation) round out Walker and Salt's key values in a resilient world.
Resilience in coastal environments, indeed in all environments, can be understood as occurring at multiple geographical scales. Resilience can apply at an individual or family level, but also at larger social or societal levels. Coastal resilience can best be viewed as a nested framework that understands that individual and family resilience are both constrained by and influenced by large societal and environmental settings, but that the latter are in turn affected by resilience, or the lack thereof, at smaller scales.
Box 1.1 Qualities of a Resilient World
Some of the main qualities of a resilient world, according to Brian Walker and David Salt, include
A resilient world would promote and sustain diversity in all forms (biological, landscape, social, and economic).
2. Ecological variability
A resilient world would embrace and work with ecological variability (rather than attempting to control and reduce it).
A resilient world would consist of modular components.
4. Acknowledging slow variables
A resilient world would have a policy focus on "slow," controlling variables associated with thresholds.
5. Tight feedbacks
A resilient world would possess tight feedbacks (but not too tight).
6. Social capital
A resilient world would promote trust, well-developed social networks, and leadership (adaptability).
A resilient world would place an emphasis on learning, experimentation, locally developed rules, and embracing change.
8. Overlap in governance
A resilient world would have institutions that include "redundancy" in their governance structures and a mix of common and private property with overlapping access rights.
9. Ecosystem services
A resilient world would include all the unpriced ecosystem services in development proposals and assessments.
Source: Walker and Salt (2006).
Resilience can be seen to exist, and can be nurtured, at both an individual and a collective level, and at a number of geographical scales (from neighborhood to region and beyond). Buckle (2006, 96) identifies certain elements that support resilience at an individual level, such as information and advice, resources (including financial), management capacity, personal and community support, and involvement. At the community level, Buckle (2006, 97–98) identifies the following as elements supporting resilience: knowledge of hazards; shared community values; established social infrastructure (e.g., information channels, social networks, and community organizations such as churches and supporting clubs); positive social and economic trends (e.g., a viable economy, a stable or growing population); partnerships; and resources and skills.
Excerpted from Planning for Coastal Resilience by Timothy Beatley. Copyright © 2009 Island Press. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
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