By Dr. Zoé Hamstead, Assistant Professor of Environmental Planning and Founding Director of the Community Resilience Lab at the University of Buffalo's School of Architecture and Planning. Co-Editor of the book Resilient Urban Futures.

Cities profoundly impact and are impacted by climate change. Processes of urbanization—characterized by industrialization, urban densification, expansion, and related dynamics—have not only warmed the globe through greenhouse gas-emitting activities. They have also changed local climate and weather patterns, creating unique vulnerabilities in the same sites as those greenhouse gas-emitting activities. Urban coastal sea levels are rising. Urban heat waves, precipitation events, droughts, and wildfires are becoming more frequent, more intense, and longer-lasting. All as people concentrate in cities. 

Urban environments are becoming risky places to live in the context of climate change, but the question of which cities are able to harness resources necessary for recovery and which social groups within cities receive those resources is a matter of politics, power, and exclusionary practices. This is why designers of urban systems must wage simultaneous battles to curb global climate change trends while adapting and transforming to address local impacts. And all of this must be done in ways that wrestle with the institutions of social separateness that create unequal climate burdens and which are embedded in planning, policy, scientific, and economic practices.

Using experiences from a network of nine cities in the Caribbean, Latin America, and the United States, Resilient Urban Futures brings the science of urban transformation together with practices of professionals who design, govern, and manage urban systems. The volume represents five years of urban futures work in which 180 researchers from 21 institutions collaborated with 220 practitioners to envision positive urban futures. Funded by a National Science Foundation Sustainable Research Network grant and led by Charles Redman and Nancy Grimm at Arizona State University, the Urban Resilience to Extremes (UREx) Project uses a social-ecological-technological systems (SETS) framework to develop ambitious and long-term positive visioning. Because the SETS framework is attentive to ways in which social systems (e.g., governance) interact with ecological systems (e.g., coastal ecosystems), and technological systems (e.g., energy networks), it is an inherently multi-disciplinary approach which helps to account for unpredictability. Grounded in the UREx experience, Resilient Urban Futures describes how multidisciplinary approaches are applied to ambitious and creative scenario visioning, land change modeling, data visualization, and co-production approaches among other forms of futures practice. 

Focusing on the future does not mean ignoring the past. Altering the climate is an economic and political endeavor, and one that has relied upon oppression and extraction. Climate change and vulnerabilities to weather extremes have been institutionalized in structures designed to replicate themselves. Fragile coastal ecologies may make us more vulnerable to floods as sea levels rise, and resource-deprived emergency medical services systems may make us more vulnerable to heat-related mortality. At the same time, inadequate mobility services, extractive hiring practices, and our commodity-based housing system create climate inequity by undermining basic health and economic determinants which are exacerbated by weather extremes. Each of these and many more sectors has played a role in producing oppression and each must reckon with that history in developing strategies for transforming social separateness into social cohesion. Future scenarios that are contextualized in a place-based historical awareness—in which people articulate not only the local narratives that form positive community identity and civic pride, but also the exclusions and subordinations that persist today—hold greater potential for shared resilient futures. 

Resilient Urban Futures brings together the knowledge and experiences of 24 interdisciplinary researchers across the UREx network. It provides designers of urban systems and students of engineering, urban planning, ecology, sustainability, and others with conceptual and practical tools for advancing equitable, resilient futures in the context of climate change. Our hope is that while this volume will equip designers with practical tools, it will also promote greater recognition of “future-making” as a form of privilege, and co-production engagement as a way to create more inclusivity in ambitious and long-term agenda-setting practices.

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Dr. Zoé Hamstead

Assistant Professor of environmental planning and Founding Director of the Community Reslience Lab at the University of Buffalo, NY, USA

Co-Editor of Resilient Urban Futures.