In May 2017, a few days after the Melbourne workshop, the nightmare of a ISIS-inspired suicide bombing came to Manchester. This was a very severe test of any ideas about resilience. In the aftermath, some thoughts were crystallized, which might help (for myself at least), to explore a dark and troubled landscape.

These thoughts start by trying to ‘join the dots’… for instance, between 22 deaths in Manchester, and 30 deaths off the coast of Libya the next day (with hardly a mention in the UK media)…. In other words, from failed states with spiralling human atrocities, we can only expect brutal and often random blowback. To understand this more, we have to look at the inter-connections of political and personal. This is the core theme of the final chapter of my book Deeper City.

Resilience Mapping as a Contested Space

Meanwhile… ongoing work in Greater Manchester (GM) is guided by the synergistic method in use.

The matrix below shows a cross-section of realities behind the resilience studies so far. For each combination of actors, factors and domains, there are positive stories, evidence & framings (in normal type). There are also the ‘Versus’ cases – negative stories & frames (italic type).

The conventional view is that GM is well equipped in the resilience league, with a mild climate, no obvious natural hazards, and a high-income nation level of technology and infrastructure. There’s a critical counter view which sees GM as a frontline candidate in neo-liberal austerity, exclusion, and fragmentation, where governance is myopic and elitist, and where the public agenda is captured by media oligarchs [1].

The matrix here contrasts both viewpoints, positive and negative. It shows a ‘contested space’ with much disagreement: but to make real progress, these counter-factuals are an essential part of the picture. We need to explore wider, deeper and further, for both opportunities and challenges, and build them into the design of the synergistic pathways. This isn’t often straightforward. It’s much easier to get technical evidence and numbers for a mode-I risk model, while for the creative co-evolutionary mode-III, there is less tangible evidence, and more space for co-learning and co-creation.

One challenge in GM is a population which is ageing, dependent and isolated, vulnerable to all kinds of natural and human hazards. In response there are digital innovations in remote monitoring: social innovations in care exchanges: economic innovations in online shopping deliveries: and infrastructure innovation in responsive housing solutions. Putting those together might just happen spontaneously, or it might be better to think it through with all concerned.

Another challenge in GM is that areas of flood risk often coincide with areas of high deprivation and insecurity. A recent flood resilience programme in Salford had a very low takeup, due perhaps to distrust of authority, community transience, and split incentives in housing tenure [2]. Ways forward will need to deal with such interlocking challenges. The design and evaluation of policy for urban regeneration is an important part of this [3].

One implication is, once we join the dots between climate change, economic and social change, there isn’t necessarily a simple ‘problem’, or a simple ‘solution’. Instead there’s a multi-dimensional jigsaw of potentials, challenges and opportunities. The matrix is only an outline mapping of that landscape, better than nothing. We need to learn how to read the map, navigate the pathways and mobilize the opportunities for synergistic action.

C) ‘FURTHER’ (transformations)Mode-I
(emergent complexity)
(cognitive complexity)
A) ‘WIDER’: actors/factors
Flood & stormMost urban flood defences are working & maintained. -VS-
certain areas are flooded multiple times: flash flood risk increasing
Integrated catchment planning principle & policy:
upstream landuse & farm subsidies increase downstream flood risk (e.g. Wadsworth Moor)
Integrated ‘ecosystems approach’ principles:
current disintegration of public services & policy
Heat, droughtHeat / drought in UK are moderate in near future: -
certain social groups & housing types are high risk
Incentives for private water firms to maintain supply: -
near collapse of elderly care system: split incentives for house adaptation
Integrated neighbor-care-exchange schemes for extreme weather:
social fragmentation & exclusion
One-Planet-CityGreen infra has increased with post-industrial: GM has good recycling:
most species & habitats declining: over half of waste goes to landfill
Policies & studies on Green infra & res eff:
green infrastructure underfunded & privatized
Many innovations in socio-eco-cultural enterprise:
negative pressures of cost, short term policy, gaps in value chains
Climate mitigation
B) DEEPER: domains/values
Social resilience
Technical resilienceMainly functional systems of planning, projects, maintenance etc.
Lack of understanding of combined wild card effects
Privatized utilities are providing investment:
vulnerability if combined with cyber attack, terrorism, technology, pandemic
Potential smart-wise city technology with citizen monitoring –
Risk of techno-determinism & stupefying cities
Economic resiliencediverse metropolitan economic structure
Low productivity, investment etc
High value property & professionals
Majority are excluded, precarious, underpaid
Growing interest in holistic inclusive growth
Dysfunctional & divisive macro-economic system
Political resilienceGM has effective devolved structure
- VS -
General lack of participation or trust by the people: political turmoil, post Brexit
Average transparency & accountability
- VS -
low res. by underfunding, marketization, privatization of public services
Effective civil society & / culture of learning & innovation
- VS -
Institutional inertia, perverse incentives, elite nepotism,
Cultural resilience
Spatial resilienceLarge stock of low value houses - VS -
Housing crisis mainly for young, low-paid, precarious
Democratic spatial planning system
- VS -
Forces of gentrification & spatial segregation
Spatial integration, diversity,
System effects of inertia, polarization
Super-systems“Economic growth will secure the future city”.“Global investors are the key to success”“Collaborative capitalism - how does it work?”
Structural layers / archetypes / mythsDefence against hostile natureEvolutionary competition & innovation Co-evolution & co-habitation with nature

Next steps

Overall the R&R programme aims at visionary yet practical results – ‘synergistic pathways from smart to wise’ – to enhance the overall resilience of the future city.   It’s possible to envisage technical solutions – sealed air-con buildings, surveillance cameras feeding into control centres – but mono-functional technology seems to exacerbate other kinds of gaps and vulnerabilities. With the combination of co-learning, co-creation and co-production of all stakeholders, this all adds up to a urban shared-mind, a collective intelligence.   This isn’t a solution, more like an experimental space or collaboratorium, where creative forward looking responses can emerge and flourish. The synergistic thinking and toolkit outlined here can help to design and explore this space.

[1] Ravetz and Miles 2016: Ravetz, J, and Miles, I.D, (2016). Foresight in cities and the possibility of a ‘strategic urban intelligence’. Foresight Journal, Vol: 18(5).

[2] Bichard, E & Thurairajah, N 2014, ‘Trialling Behaviour Change Strategies to Motivate Interest in Property Level Flood Protection’, International Journal of Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment, 5(2), pp.130-143

[3] Ravetz, J (2014): Inter-connected responses for inter-connected problems: synergistic thinking for local urban development in a global urban system: International Journal of Global Environmental Issues, 13(2/3/4):362-388