Resiliency vs. sustainability
Climate resilience is an idea that challenges some long-held assumptions about sustainability, according to Martha Bohm, an associate professor for academic affairs at University at Buffalo. Bohm is concerned that “resiliency” is too often used interchangeably with “sustainability” in planning policies addressing climate and the built environment.
“Concepts of sustainability and resilience are different enough that they could in fact be at odds with each other,” she wrote in a study that analyzed how the concepts were treated in a climate and environmental justice plan developed by New York City Mayor’s office in 2015.
“Concepts of sustainability and resilience are different enough that they could in fact be at odds with each other.”
– Martha Bohm, Associate Professor, University at Buffalo
Bohm uses two categories to describe how city planners use the concept of resiliency: engineering and ecological. Engineering resilience measures the time it takes for a system—mechanical, economic, or structural—to return to its original state after it has been disturbed (the quicker, the better). Ecological resilience describes how a biological system—like a forest or sea—achieves equilibrium after a disturbance.
The critical difference between the two is that ecological resilience, unlike the engineering version, does not necessarily mean that a system returns to exactly how it was before a disruption. Equilibrium may return, but through a different matrix of balances and relationships.
“Things are most resilient when they are just starting, or are under construction, but people don’t want to live in a perpetual construction site,” Bohm wrote. “Hence, a city, like an ecosystem, becomes more complex and rigid until it either adjusts or collapses.”
Bohm is among nearly 30 researchers and practitioners featured in a 2021 book, Climate Adaptation and Resilience across Scales: From Buildings to Cities, that was co-edited by Holmes and Nicholas Rajkovich, an associate professor at the University at Buffalo’s School of Architecture and Planning.