The Resilient City as Sociotechnical Imaginary

Authors: Bart Orr*, New School University
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning, Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Anthropocene
Keywords: Resilience, Climate Change, Urban Planning, STS, Security, Political Ecology, Political Geography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 2:00 PM / 3:40 PM
Room: Washington 6, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper explores the idea of the "Resilient City" as an emerging planning ideal situated in a lineage of paradigms following high-modernism. Viewing the Resilient City as a socio-technical imaginary, defined as "collectively held, institutionally stabilized, and publicly performed visions of desirable futures, animated by shared understandings of forms of social life and social order attainable through, and supportive of, advances in science and technology" (Jasanoff, 2015), it is argued that unlike other sociotechnical urban imaginaries, such as the Smart City, the Resilient City is essentially a securitization project. Relying on the concept of socio-ecological resilience (as put forth by Folke et al. (2003)), it aims to create adaptive publics capable of continuous self-organizing in response to uncertainty. However, the Resilient City's point of intervention-the disastrous impacts of climate change-carries with it an environmental ethos that extends to broader aspects of planning beyond adaptation and disaster response, privileging design elements such as nature-based infrastructure. In doing so, certain elements of high modernist design are reinvigorated, such as the centrality of expertise, but with an emphasis on ecological knowledge.
I argue that the Resilient City as a sociotechnical imaginary exists through a peculiar combination of utopianism and precarity. Articulations of the Resilient City are invariably positive scenarios, but ones which exist only as alternatives to catastrophe. However, the Resilient City inverts the source of risk (human-ecological relationships) such that not only is catastrophe avoided, but the source of risk is reimagined as the source of prosperity and well-being.

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