What is Resiliency Planning

Reminder of Hurricane Katrina

Reminder of Hurricane Katrina

Visitor Question: What does resiliency planning mean? I am a plan commission member, and I was sitting in my second meeting when a lively discussion of whether and how we might do resiliency planning came up. I couldn't tell from the context exactly what the subject was. Can you help?

Editors Answer: Resiliency planning is an umbrella term taking on a host of meanings right now around the world. Resilience means the ability to bounce back. Perhaps the most common reference is to what might more descriptively be called climate change planning. In this answer to your question, we will address that meaning first, but other definitions could be much more important in your particular locale.

Like the best of city planning for the last nearly 100 years, what is relevant to one community is less important or even irrelevant to another. So readers really need to exercise judgment about which possible resiliency factors to address in their community planning process, and especially in formal written plans.

Just think of resiliency as a popular lens from which to view your city or town. It’s a perspective, just like sustainability. A few years ago resiliency planning might just have been part of strategic planning or comprehensive planning. Resiliency does not necessarily imply a particular subject matter. Still, under the resiliency banner, some topics are more common than others.

Much of the conversation about resilience is being driven by a recent Rockefeller Foundation initiative, echoed by other philanthropic organizations and major world players such as The World Bank.

Major resiliency topics that a community might wish to tackle include:

1. Climate adaptation issues represent an important consideration. Temperature average changes may be very impactful in a community dependent on tourism (think of skiing and beach communities), agriculture (where crop changes may be required), or a particular landscape or natural feature that will be altered (think of mountains that may no longer be snow-covered or areas known for a particularly beautiful ecosystem that will be altered).

Secondly, the increasing frequency of violent storms may cause rethinking of requirements for tornado shelters, need for increasing setbacks from shorelines and for prohibiting expensive land improvements within a storm buffer zone, and discussions of requiring flood elevations in excess of what currently are required. Third, coastal communities and low-lying islands will have to follow and consider carefully the predictions for sea level rise. As painful as relocation of homes and businesses, or even whole communities, might be, it will be less painful in a well-planned, preventive mode than in a hasty emergency atmosphere after a tragedy.

2. Potential economic shocks may be particular to your community. We would urge your community to look at one major issue that will impact planning almost everywhere, which is automation. Specifically look at autonomous vehicles and what that will mean when they become more common. We include this under economic issues because of the proportion of employment and part-time employment formed by truck drivers, school bus drivers, taxi drivers, transit drivers. In a number of states driver is the single most common occupation. Of course the autonomous vehicle issue also will impact the rate of private vehicle ownership per household, as it seems we are headed for autonomous Uber transportation that should decrease demand for parking lots and also parking spots on lots. Automation may continue to impact manufacturing employment, as robots generate the same output with fewer employees. Other location-specific automatic impacts are probable.

3. Resiliency is critical in the face of heavy reliance on a particular employer, road, bridge, ferry, school district, and so forth. Many cities are only one major bridge collapse away from very widespread impacts of commuting patterns and households. Others are still "company towns." It's tough to do a public plan addressing what happens if XYZ industry goes bankrupt, leaves the country, or moves to a larger city, but that pre-planning should be undertaken as diplomatically as possible, often cloaked in a healthy discussion of economic diversity. Likewise it’s hard to imagine life without a particular bridge or tunnel, but it is critically important that those conversations occur. They might lead to a different trajectory in land use planning or economic development incentives.

4. A more difficult planning conversation would be thinking about how to create resiliency from the impacts of war, civil war, civil unrest, terrorism, or sectarian conflicts. Although many places do not need to obsess and plan for these matters, in other places there is a realistic possibility of one of these. An honest conversation with each other can determine which events have enough likelihood, enough potential for pre-planning to be helpful, and enough severity to warrant the planning effort.

5. Potential hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, and floods, where these catastrophes can reasonably be predicted to occur at some point. State and federal governments often can provide help with modeling and scenario planning about the probability and likely severity of these events, but still, there is little substitute for local planning and rehearsal about how to address these. Residents and activists in many places will find that their elected and appointed officials are more active in practicing for these events than they realized, but still, a fresh look at whichever of these are realistic threats in your location can yield some real dividends.

6. Pervasive and persistent inequality create possible civil strife and erosion of trust within the society. These too are important risks, and one that planning commissions could tackle, although that would really stretch the purview of a typical plan commission in the U.S.

Oh my, we see that will have to write some pages on some of these topics so we can go into more depth.

But in brief, your colleagues may be referring to any or all of these, so it is a sensible question to ask which aspects of resiliency planning have been discussed in your municipality. Don’t be embarrassed to bring yourself up to speed, now that you have a little background.

To really impress your fellow planning commission members, you can look at how cities as diverse as Da Nang, Bristol, Medellin, Dakar, Rotterdam, and San Francisco have tackled resiliency.



  1. Community Development
  2.  ›
  3. Questions

  4. Planning Definitions
  5. Resilience Planning? What's That?

Click here to post comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Planning Terms Question.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required