What is Resilience?

The Commission adopted the definition of resilience as the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience. The City Resilience Framework (CFR), developed by The Rockefeller Foundation and ARUP, provides an important setting to the conceptual framework of resilience needed for the Puerto Rico recovery process.

Source: 100 Resilient Cities

Resilient Qualities

The CFR recognized characteristics of resilient systems that are needed in order to withstand, respond to, and adapt more readily to shocks and stresses.

These qualities can be categorized into seven main qualities: Flexible, Inclusive, Integrated, Redundant, Reflective, Resourceful and Robust.

Flexibility implies that systems can change, evolve and adapt in response to changing circumstances. This may favor decentralized and modular approaches to infrastructure or ecosystem management. Flexibility can be achieved through the introduction of new knowledge and technologies, as needed. It also means considering and incorporating indigenous or traditional knowledge and practices in new ways.

Inclusion emphasizes the need for broad consultation and engagement
 of communities, including the most vulnerable groups. Addressing the shocks or stresses faced by one sector, location, or community in isolation of others is an anathema to the notion of resilience. An inclusive approach contributes to a sense of shared ownership or a joint vision to build resilience.

Integration and alignment between systems promotes consistency in decision-making and ensures that all investments are mutually supportive to a common outcome. Integration is evident within and between resilient systems and across different scales of their operation. Exchange of information between systems enables them to function collectively and respond rapidly through shorter feedback loops.

Redundancy refers to spare capacity purposely created within systems so that they can accommodate disruption, extreme pressures or surges in demand. It includes diversity: the presence of multiple ways to achieve a given need or fulfill a particular function. Examples include distributed infrastructure networks and resource reserves. Redundancies should be intentional, cost-effective and prioritized at a city-wide scale, and should not be an externality of inefficient design.

Reflective systems are accepting of the inherent and ever-increasing uncertainty and change in today’s world. They have mechanisms to continuously evolve and modify standards or norms based on emerging evidence, rather than seeking permanent solutions based on the status quo. As a result, people and institutions examine and systematically learn from past experiences and leverage this learning to inform future decision-making.

Resourcefulness implies that people and institutions are able to rapidly find different ways to achieve their goals
 or meet their needs during a shock or under stress. This may include investing in capacity to anticipate future conditions, set priorities, and respond, for example, by mobilizing and coordinating wider human, financial, and physical resources. Resourcefulness is instrumental to a city’s ability to restore functionality of critical systems, potentially under severely constrained conditions.

Robust systems include well-conceived, constructed, and managed physical assets, so that they can withstand 
the impacts of hazard events without significant damage or loss of function. Robust designs anticipate potential system failures, making provision to ensure failure is predictable, safe, and not disproportionate to the cause. Over-reliance on a single asset, cascading failure and design thresholds that might lead to catastrophic collapse if exceeded are actively avoided.

Resilience in the context of Puerto Rico

The concept of resilience is one that is embedded in Puerto Rico’s history and culture. No matter the challenge, Puerto Rico has found ways to survive and thrive. That said, as demonstrated by Hurricane Maria, there are opportunities and needs to strengthen the Island’s resilience. Building resilience is a process that requires looking at the Island holistically, understanding the systems that make up the place and the interdependencies and risks they may face. By strengthening the underlying fabric of the Island and better understanding the potential shocks and stresses it may face, Puerto Rico can improve its development trajectory and the well-being of its citizens.

Chronic stresses are slow moving disasters that weaken our society. These include:

  • high unemployment
  • inefficient energy and public transportation system
  • endemic violence
  • food and water shortage

Acute shocks are sudden, sharp events that threaten society.
These include:

  • tropical cyclones
  • earthquakes
  • floods
  • disease outbreaks

The concept of resilience shows up differently in every unique context. That said, there are certain questions that are commonly considered in understanding resilience. These include:

All of these issue areas are important, and the process of rebuilding Puerto Rico offers the opportunity to address some of the underlying challenges that prevent Puerto Rico from answering the aforementioned questions in an affirmative manner. Given the unique context of Puerto Rico, the process of developing recommendations for the resilient rebuild of Puerto Rico must take into account:

  • The urban/rural divide in the island. We’ll need to think through, for example, what the resilient economic development opportunities for rural communities are, just as much as the opportunities in the Island’s urban centers.
  • The variety of ecosystems present in the island, and the challenges and opportunities each present. We’ll need to take into account, for example, the ability of coastal ecosystems and inland forest ecosystems to provide ecosystem services in a changing climate.
  • Lastly, and perhaps stating the obvious, recommendations must be tailored for an island context – it’s surrounded by water and exposed to climate hazards; its dependence on tourism and imports; the cost of infrastructure in comparison to the small tax base; and its overreliance on limited natural resources.

Resilience is not a unique approach adopted the by ReImagina Puerto Rico. The term is a central concept in the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF) devised by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and a primary programmatic principle for numerous NGOs and philanthropic entities like the 100 Resilient Cities effort supported by The Rockefeller Foundation.