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Urban resilience thinking in practice: ensuring flows of benefit from green and blue infrastructure

Erik Andersson, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden; North-West University, Unit for Environmental Sciences, Potchefstroom, South Africa
Sara Borgström, Department of Sustainable Development, Environmental Science and Engineering, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden
Dagmar Haase, Department of Geography, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany; Department of Computational Landscape Ecology, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ, Leipzig, Germany
Johannes Langemeyer, Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA), Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain; Department of Geography, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany
Manuel Wolff, Department of Geography, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany; Department of Urban and Environmental Sociology, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ, Leipzig, Germany
Timon McPhearson, Urban Systems Lab, The New School, New York, NY, USA; Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Millbrook, NY, USA; Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden


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Present and future urbanization together with climate change and other uncertainties make urban quality of life a critical issue, and one that will need constant attention and deliberation. Across cities and contexts, urban ecosystems in the form of green and blue infrastructure, have the potential to contribute to human well-being as well as supporting biodiversity, and to do so under diverse conditions. However, the realization of this potential depends not only on the green and blue infrastructure itself, the well-being benefits are outcomes of the structures and processes of the entire urban system. Drawing on theory and insights from social-ecological-technological systems (SETS) research and resilience assessments, we describe how a systemic understanding of the generation and delivery of green and blue infrastructure benefits may inform cross-sectoral strategies and interventions for building resilience around this particular aspect of human well-being. Connecting SETS to non-academic discourse and practice, we describe the urban system in terms of three systemic controlling variables: infrastructure, institutions, and the perceptions of individual beneficiaries, which we call filters, and how these can be used in different participatory processes to assess and build resilience around green and blue infrastructure and its benefits.

To ground the conceptual and theoretical framework in real world complexity and make it operational in practice we discuss three case studies applying the framework in Barcelona, Halle, and Stockholm. All cases share the same general three-step process but their individual combinations of methods and adaptions of the filters framework are designed to fit with three necessarily unique collaborative, transdisciplinary processes. The cases are discussed in terms of outcomes and output, the ways they made use of the conceptual framework, and the challenges they faced. This exploratory work points to a new way of engaging with urban resilience—the strength of the approach is that it is not limited to the identification of specific interventions or policy options, nor trying to prevent change; rather it focuses on how to move with change and build resilience through constant balancing of different types of SETS change. Our study reinforces the growing understanding of how well-being benefits positioned as emergent outcomes of internal SETS interactions offers leverage for mainstreaming green and blue infrastructure throughout diverse governance processes and sectors.

Key words

complex adaptive systems; knowledge co-creation; participatory processes; social-ecological-technological systems; solution-oriented research

Copyright © 2021 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087