Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change

Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change


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Half of the world’s inhabitants now live in cities. In the next twenty years, the number of urban dwellers will swell to an estimated five billion people. With their inefficient transportation systems and poorly designed buildings, many cities—especially in the United States—consume enormous quantities of fossil fuels and emit high levels of greenhouse gases. But our planet is rapidly running out of the carbon-based fuels that have powered urban growth for centuries and we seem to be unable to curb our greenhouse gas emissions. Are the world’s cities headed for inevitable collapse?
The authors of this spirited book don’t believe that oblivion is necessarily the destiny of urban areas. Instead, they believe that intelligent planning and visionary leadership can help cities meet the impending crises, and look to existing initiatives in cities around the world. Rather than responding with fear (as a legion of doomsaying prognosticators have done), they choose hope. First, they confront the problems, describing where we stand today in our use of oil and our contribution to climate change. They then present four possible outcomes for cities: ”collapse,” “ruralized,”  “divided,” and “resilient.” In response to their scenarios, they articulate how a new “sustainable urbanism” could replace today’s “carbon-consuming urbanism.” They address in detail how new transportation systems and buildings can be feasibly developed to replace our present low efficiency systems. In conclusion, they offer ten “strategic steps” that any city can take toward greater sustainability and resilience.
This is not a book filled with “blue sky” theory (although blue skies will be a welcome result of its recommendations). Rather, it is packed with practical ideas, some of which are already working in cities today. It frankly admits that our cities have problems that will worsen if they are not addressed, but it suggests that these problems are solvable. And the time to begin solving them is now.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781597264983
Publisher: Island Press
Publication date: 01/09/2009
Edition description: 1
Pages: 184
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Peter Newman is professor of sustainability at Curtin University in Western Australia. He is the author of Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems (Island Press, 2007). Timothy Beatley is Teresa Heinz Professor of Sustainable Communities at the University of Virginia. His books include Green Urbanism (Island Press, 2000) and Ecology of Place (Island Press, 1997). Heather Boyer is senior editor at Island Press and 2005 Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Read an Excerpt

Resilient Cities

Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change

By Peter Newman, Timothy Beatley, Heather Boyer


Copyright © 2009 Island Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59726-863-9


Urban Resilience: Cities of Fear and Hope

Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place.

It is not. With the slightest push–in just the right place–it can be tipped.

–Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point

Resilience in our personal lives is about lasting, about making it through crises, about inner strength and strong physical constitution. Resilience is destroyed by fear, which causes us to panic, reduces our inner resolve, and eventually debilitates our bodies.

Resilience is built on hope, which gives us confidence and strength. Hope is not blind to the possibility of everything getting worse, but it is a choice we make when faced with challenges. Hope brings health to our souls and bodies. Resilience can be applied to cities. They too need to last, to respond to crises and adapt in a way that may cause them to change and grow differently; cities require an inner strength, a resolve, as well as a strong physical infrastructure and built environment.

Fear undermines the resilience of cities. The near or total collapse of many cities has been rooted in fear: health threats like the plague or yellow fever have struck cities and emptied them of those with the resources to escape, leaving only the poor behind. Invading armies have destroyed cities by sowing fear before an arrow or shot was fired. The racial fears of a generation in American cities decanted millions to the suburbs and beyond. Perhaps the biggest fear today in many cities is terrorism. In New York after 9/11, fear stopped people from congregating on streets or using the subway and sent many urban dwellers scurrying for the suburbs, but the city proved to be resilient and resisted collapse. After the terrorist bombings in London, the city immediately steeled itself to be normal, to resolve to go to work and to use the subway; signs appeared everywhere: "7 million Londoners, 1 London."

A danger that few think about with such immediacy is the threat of the collapse of our metropolitan regions in the face of resource depletion–namely, the reduction in the availability of oil and the necessary reduction in all fossil fuel use to reduce human impact on climate change. This book is not about introducing a new fear, but of understanding the implications of our actions and finding hope in the steps that can be taken to create resilient cities in the face of peak oil and climate change. Some cities exude hope as they grow and confront the future, others reek of fear as the processes of decline set in and the pain of change causes distrust and despair. Most cities have a combination of the two. For example, Atlanta is a city with some of the nation's worst traffic congestion (sixty hours of delay annually per traveler in 2005) and rapidly growing urban sprawl. While it is experiencing areas of abandonment as a result of the subprime mortgage meltdown, its inner city continues to grow, reclaiming old areas once abandoned and reversing the decline of generations.

Atlanta has been dubbed a little Los Angeles for its similar sprawling highways and automobile dependence, but Los Angeles was ranked second lowest in carbon emissions (from transportation and residential buildings) per capita, while Atlanta ranks sixtyseventh. However, cities of hope will use considerably less fuel and produce much less carbon than both of these in an age of carbon constraint.

Cities of fear make decisions based on short-term, even panicked, responses; cities of hope plan for the long term, with each decision building toward that vision, hopeful that some of the steps will be tipping points that lead to fundamental change. Cities of fear engage in competition as their only driving force, while cities of hope build consensus around cooperation and partnership. Cities of fear see threats everywhere while cities of hope see opportunities to improve in every crisis.

This book focuses on the challenges our metropolitan areas face in responding to their increasing carbon footprint, dependence on fossil fuels, and impact on our irreplaceable natural resources. Jared Diamond's book Collapse looks at how some settlements and regions have collapsed due to the inability to adapt, leading to an undermining of the natural resource base on which they depended. A characteristic of those societies appears to be that they became fixated by their fear of the future and were unable to adapt. On the other hand, Diamond outlines examples of societies facing the same pressures that were able to adapt–they turned their hope into urban resilience.

Diamond speculates on how climate change and resource degradation are threatening our cities and regions today. These are slow-moving phenomena that can undermine the continued growth of cities. Our book takes this potential of urban collapse seriously but is focused on how we can adapt to our present crises, how we can make our cities more resilient to the future in ways that are socially and economically acceptable and feasible.

The book takes the dual issues of peak oil and climate change as the key focus and rationale for our need to change. It describes how the production peak in global oil may already have occurred, or is very close at hand due to a combination of physical shortages and political control in vulnerable regions. For all practical purposes we must adapt our cities to lessen our dependence on petroleum. This is no small task as oil use in every city in the world has grown each year for most of the twentieth century; yet turning this trend around is within our reach. Global governance is recognizing the implications of climate change and the impact of cities, and there is a movement to require all cities to use less and less fossil fuel each year. This is no longer a speculative plea to cities, but is becoming a political and legal necessity.

Few would suggest that creating resilient cities is possible with technological advances alone, and agree that it must involve change in our cultures, our economies, and our lifestyles. It is the human capacity of our cities that is ultimately being tested by these challenges.

While understanding the implications of our current lifestyle is important, the response should not be driven by fear of collapse, but by the hopeful vision of the livable, equitable, resilient places our cities can become. We want to show that there is hope in our cities.

Why Concentrate on Cities?

Cities have grown rapidly in the age of cheap oil and now consume 75 percent of the world's energy and emit 80 percent of the world's greenhouse gases. Cities are presently growing globally at 2 percent per year (over 3 percent in less developed regions and 0.7 percent in more developed regions), while rural areas have leveled out and are in many places declining. For the first time, half of humanity lives in cities, and it is estimated that by 2030 the number of city dwellers will reach five billion, or 60 percent, of the world's population.

Urbanization has been happening since the Neolithic revolution when agriculture enabled food surpluses to create a division of labor in settlements. The unlocking of human ingenuity to work on technology, trade, and urban culture has created ever-expanding opportunities in cities. However, while some cities took advantage of these new opportunities, many remained as little more than rural trading posts. Urban opportunities accelerated with the Industrial Revolution and more recently with the globalization of the economy. But again not every city has taken advantage of these opportunities. Some cities, such as Liverpool, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh, have struggled to adapt to the new opportunities and have relied for too long on outmoded methods of industrial production as the basis for their cities. Yet other cities, such as Manchester and New York, have made the transition and are thriving.

Peter Hall, who has examined why some cities adapt more rapidly than others, suggests that the desire to experiment and innovate is found in the heart of the city's culture. Robert Friedel calls it the "culture of improvement," Lewis Mumford refers to this instinct in a city as a "collective work of art," and Tim Gorringe as "creative spirituality." Whatever it is called, the ability to experiment and innovate is the tissue of hope and the core of resilience.

Overcoming the fear of change today must involve new experiments in green urbanism, as cities seek to improve themselves in ways that fit their culture. Which cities will respond to the new set of opportunities opening up around this global sustainability issue? Rethinking how we create our built environment is critical in lessening our dependence on oil and minimizing our carbon footprint. Buildings produce 43 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions and consume 48 percent of the energy produced. It is projected that by shifting 60 percent of new growth to compact patterns the United States will save 85 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually by 2030. We believe that the change, when dealing with global issues like peak oil and climate change, needs to come from cities. Nations can do a lot to help or hinder these efforts, but the really important initiatives have to begin at the city level because there is great variation in how cities cope with issues within any nation. Great leadership and innovation can be found in cities. For example, while the United States has yet to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, over 825 mayors of U.S. cities signed onto the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement to commit their city to reaching the goals of the Protocol. The initiative, which was spearheaded by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, strives to meet these goals through leadership and action advanced by a network of forward-thinking cities large and small. Similarly the Clinton Foundation has coordinated an approach to reducing greenhouse gases for the big cities in the world through its C40 Large Cities Climate Leadership Group, an association of large global cities dedicated to tackling climate change.

Our book tells many of these stories of hope in cities across the globe, which show there is leadership coming from government, industry, universities, and community groups. Although its focus is on American cities where so much more is needed, many of the examples will come from elsewhere in the world.

What Are Resilient Cities?

Since the devastation of many Gulf Coast cities from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 that impacted eleven countries, and the Burmese cyclone of 2008, resilient cities have most often been discussed in relation to the city's ability to respond to a natural disaster. Here we use an expanded definition to include a city's ability to respond to a natural resource shortage and respond to the recognition of the human impact on climate change. There is debate about the link between climate change and natural disasters, which has been renewed as scientists try to understand the increasing incidence of devastating natural disasters, such as the super cyclones that devastated New Orleans and Myanmar.

We have focused on the idea of resilient cities as those that can substantially reduce their dependence on petroleum fuels in ways that are socially and economically acceptable and feasible. But whether the impetus for pursuing resiliency is to respond to natural or to human made disasters, the outcome is similar. Resilient cities have built-in systems that can adapt to change, such as a diversity of transport and land-use systems and multiple sources of renewable power that will allow a city to survive shortages in fuel supplies.

Brian Walker, David Salt, and Walter Reid have summarized the academic area of "resilience thinking," which has emerged as a way of managing ecosystems like coral reefs or farming systems and other complex social-economic-ecological systems. Their principles of resilience are applicable to cities. They write, "Resilience is the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and still retain its basic function and structure." Tabatha Wallington, Richard Hobbes, and Sue Moore say that ecological resilience "may be measured by the magnitude of disturbance the system can tolerate and still persist." This book attempts to apply this concept to the complex social-economic-ecological systems of cities.

In New Orleans the resilience of the city to withstand winds and waves from Katrina was reduced by the loss of wetlands and mangroves around the Gulf shores, and by the inadequate infrastructure provided by the levees. But the main human disaster came about because the transit system was so inadequate that people who did not own a car (around a third of the population) could not evacuate, and the freeways were at capacity due to the number of individuals in cars. No plan for using school buses and other transit vehicles was in place, so those resources were all washed away with the first floods. The transport system was not resilient and it undermined the rest of the urban system, which turned rapidly into social chaos.

In a resilient city every step of development and redevelopment of the city will make it more sustainable: it will reduce its ecological footprint (consumption of land, water, materials, and energy, especially the oil so critical to their economies, and the output of waste and emissions) while simultaneously improving its quality of life (environment, health, housing, employment, community) so that it can better fit within the capacities of local, regional, and global ecosystems. Resilience needs to be applied to all the natural resources on which cities rely.

In resilience thinking the more sustainable a city the more it will be able to cope with reductions in the resources that are used to make the city work. Sustainability recognizes there are limits in the local, regional, and global systems within which cities fit, and that when those limits are breached the city can rapidly decline. The more a city can minimize its dependence on resources such as fossil fuels in a period when there are global constraints on supply and global demand is increasing, the more resilient it will be. Atlanta needs 782 gallons of gasoline per person each year for its urban system to work, but in Barcelona it is just 64 gallons. With oil supply cuts and carbon taxes the decline in availability of oil will seriously confront Atlanta, yet Barcelona is likely to cope with ease. Both cities will still need to have plans in place that help their citizenry cope with such a disturbance.

Why Should Cities Move Toward Resiliency?

Resiliency in cities can be rationalized by simply understanding why we need to reduce oil dependence in urban regions.

Reducing oil use is a political necessity. The waning of petroleum resources and the global climate change imperatives discussed in this book require all cities to act; if they don't their citizenry will suffer from the inevitable increase in prices, as we are seeing in the U.S. right now. The $100-a-barrel oil barrier has been broken and some analysts are saying that it could go over $300 within five years.

Reducing oil use will reduce impacts on the environment. Oil use is responsible for approximately one-third of greenhouse gases.

Transport greenhouse is seen as the most worrying part of the climate change agenda as it continues to grow during a period when more renewable or efficient options are available.

Reducing oil use and investing in green buildings will reduce impacts on human health. Improvements in urban air quality from technological advances are being washed out by growing use of vehicles. Thirty-nine different air quality districts are over the required standards (this is 40 percent of the United States). Developing cities desperately need to lower air emissions as they are often well above WHO recommended health limits.15 Other health issues, such as obesity due to lack of activity, as well as stress and depression could be reduced by minimizing auto dependence.


Excerpted from Resilient Cities by Peter Newman, Timothy Beatley, Heather Boyer. Copyright © 2009 Island Press. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Urban Resilience: Cities of Fear and Hope
Chapter 2.Climate Change and Peak Oil: The Double Whammy for Resource-Intensive Cities
Chapter 3. Scenarios for the Future of Cities: Collapse, Ruralized, Divided, or Resilient City
Chapter 4.A Vision for Resilient Cities: The Built Environment
Chapter 5. Hope for Resilient Cities: Transport
Chapter 6.Conclusion: Ten Strategic Steps toward a Resilient City


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