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A Theory on Urban Resilience to Floods—A Basis for Alternative Planning Practices

Kuei-Hsien Liao, Department of Architecture, School of Design and Environment, National University of Singapore

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-05231-170448

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Abstract

River cities require a management approach based on resilience to floods rather than on resistance. Resisting floods by means of levees, dams, and channelization neglects inherent uncertainties arising from human–nature couplings and fails to address the extreme events that are expected to increase with climate change, and is thereby not a reliable approach to long-term flood safety. By applying resilience theory to address system persistence through changes, I develop a theory on “urban resilience to floods” as an alternative framework for urban flood hazard management. Urban resilience to floods is defined as a city’s capacity to tolerate flooding and to reorganize should physical damage and socioeconomic disruption occur, so as to prevent deaths and injuries and maintain current socioeconomic identity. It derives from living with periodic floods as learning opportunities to prepare the city for extreme ones. The theory of urban resilience to floods challenges the conventional wisdom that cities cannot live without flood control, which in effect erodes resilience. To operationalize the theory for planning practice, a surrogate measure—the percent floodable area—is developed for assessing urban resilience to floods. To enable natural floodplain functions to build urban resilience to floods, flood adaptation is advocated in order to replace flood control for mitigating flood hazards.

Key words

flood adaptation; flood control; flood hazard management; resilience-based management; resilience surrogate; resilient cities; urban floodplains; urban resilience
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087