The 21st century has posed humanity with challenging times, and the peculiarity of these challenges lies in their unprecedented nature. COVID-19 is one such exceptional event that has uncovered our incompetency in resilience and preparedness to events like a pandemic. The pandemic highlighted several critical global systemic incompetence, inequitable access to services, disaster response, health and mobility systems during extreme events. It also exposed the reality of the economic structure where a crisis pushed millions of people into extreme poverty. This pattern is bound to repeat itself in case of events like these, seriously undermining the development efforts.

The challenges we experienced during the pandemic have sparked conversations around green growth, the urgency for fostering climate action, and the importance of resilience building. The resilience of systems is an essential tool for strengthening adaptation mechanisms against extreme events and long-term climate impacts.

Understanding economic development and urbanization while working on resilience

The past few years have witnessed rapid urbanization, starting with just 10 per cent urban population in 1990. The world will further urbanize over the next decade, from 56.2 per cent of the global population today to 60.4 per cent by 2030. There is enough data to support that urban centers will continue to be engines of economic growth and contribute to the country's economic growth trajectory.

The problem of urbanization as it relates to climate impacts is twofold. One, the cities will increasingly become vulnerable to climate impacts; and two, cities will continue to grow, and infrastructure development will be part and parcel of the same.

In this scenario, resilience cannot be an afterthought. Without embedding resilience into infrastructure design, we may be creating liabilities in infrastructure that is vulnerable to climate change impacts. Also, that would lead to increasing the vulnerability of the population who uses them. Not only the design of infrastructures has to be resilient but location of critical infrastructure also plays an important part. For instance, poorly designed or located road infrastructure will restrict people and obstruct safe evacuation during emergencies. Resilient and green infrastructure have the potential to not only promote green growth, but also reduce significantly the loss and damage during extreme events both of life and property.

Socio-economic dimensions to resilience building

It is imperative for young professionals working on urban resilience to acknowledge that resilient systems are more than just built environments. Adaptation action, for example, also include restoration of a water body, or decongesting water catchment area, or improving peri-urban buffer zones that have the potential to absorb floodwater.

Resilience also includes the ones who are affected, the vulnerable and the marginalized population who bear the brunt of climate impacts and are further pushed into poverty. Resilience, therefore, needs to take into account the vulnerable people, their socio-cultural and economic conditions and build their capacities. Merging the idea of human development with resilience is extremely important to ensure that resilience takes into account the socio-economic dimensions of a society. Core values of human development like equity, participation and empowerment have to be the central idea while developing resilient systems rather than just focusing on efficiency and productivity.

Principles of urban resilience and planning

Urban resilience requires a multisectoral approach wherein different sectoral interventions play a critical role in making society resilient towards hazards and disasters. A confluence of long-term policy interventions ranging from urban infrastructure planning, technology support, social justice and many others are required for building resilience. This means that a balanced combination of both hard and soft measures of infrastructure support is needed.

When planning for resilience, a mosaic of socio-cultural and economic action should emerge where all planning stages are inclusive and integrated. This begins right at the analysis stage, where urban spaces must be thoroughly analyzed for city context, demography and socio-economic trends, vulnerable group identification in these spaces. The consultation stage must have a multisectoral approach, including relevant citizen communities, business and trade associations, government etc. The action plan/project formulation stage and financing and investment stage are critical stages as the actual action towards resilience building occurs.

Who is responsible for resilience

Now that we have discussed basic principles and ideas about building urban resilience, the next most crucial question is who is responsible and who can get involved to make spaces more resilient. The concise yet straightforward answer to that question is – everyone.

Resilience building by virtue of being a universal need calls for efforts from everyone in society, including government officials, civil society members, business organizations, researchers and others. The need for multisectoral intervention in resilience-building requires policy support, structural and technical assistance, knowledge building from the scientific community, financing and investments. This clarifies that resilience-building requires skilled professionals from all walks of life, including consulting, governance, policy and scientific research, program design, implementation, management etc.

Creating urban resilience is of utmost urgency in today's geopolitical context where environment, economy, social equity and justice need to be in synergy. However, this urgency should be seen as an opportunity as the area of resilience building is exceptionally open and accessible. Therefore, anyone committed to building socially just, inclusive, and environment-conscious communities can get involved in projects related to resilience building.

Although urban resilience building is a highly vast field, the points discussed in this article serve as a good entry point in this space for socially and environmentally aware individuals and organizations who are willing to transform cities into spaces that are better prepared for crisis events and better adjusted to long-term effects of climate change while accommodating the socio-economic nuances of society.