The future of resilience and the built environment (Part 2 of 2)

March 10, 2016 Nicole Collins

We asked our resilience leaders: “In the coming years, how will resilient thinking impact the built environment?"


In part one of this two-part blog, our resilience experts explored ideas such as holistic thinking, taking a systems approach, aligning ourselves with the natural world, and the increasing acceptance of disaster risk reduction as an element of our clients’ planning processes.

Here are a few more ideas on the future of resilience and the built environment.


We’ll design for complexity

Caroline Cunningham, Senior Hazard Mitigation Planner in Raleigh, North Carolina

Resilience brings a range of interests and decision makers to the same table, who push the boundaries of previously viable solutions. Considering a resilience thought process in the context of our built environment conjures a powerful vision of projects that embody multiple benefits, like buildings that reduce future hazard vulnerability while simultaneously enhancing economic gains and providing livable space. For example, Hunts Point in New York is designed as an economic hub that incorporates a “social levee” for recreation and flood protection as well as hazard-fortified mixed used development for commercial and industrial uses. Combined, they form livable and adaptable community places.

Resilience may also mean structures and systems built to withstand disasters and maintain full functionality in the wake of that disaster, such as microgrids or redundant power systems that continue to supply power. Tottenville Dunes on Staten Island, New York, will use concrete protection barriers built under an existing coastal dune system to enhance their natural protective features. “Oyster-tecture” will also be applied on the project, all part of an “experiment that weaves together aquatic landscape architecture, science education, waste collection, and the politics of seaside life,” according to

In each case, resilience requires a customized solution rather than a one size fits all, cookie cutter approach. This invites innovation in architecture, construction, utility supply, and siting to best address the unique local conditions and concerns of an area.



Hopefully, we’ll build less

John Bucher, Planner, Water in Louisville, Kentucky

How many times have we heard the expression “less is more?” One lesson some communities have learned from climate change and recent disasters is that often we cannot, nor would it be appropriate to, build our way to resilience.

Humans are gaining a renewed respect for the natural functions of wetlands, marshes, dunes, and riparian corridors. FEMA’s hazard mitigation programs help communities acquire flood-prone properties, which are then deed-restricted in perpetuity to open space uses to restore and conserve natural floodplain functions. Additionally, the Community Rating System provides special credit for community activities that protect and restore natural floodplain functions. And the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the US Army Corp of Engineers are restoring ecosystems to reduce flood and coastal storm damage. One project, near Stone Harbor, New Jersey, involves restoring approximately 116 acres of natural barrier island habitat.

Another less-is-more approach to vulnerable populations places less emphasis on built infrastructure to mitigate hazards and more focus on social equity by improving education, public health, and economic opportunity.

Neither of these approaches— restoring nature or improving social programs—calls for more built environment, yet both can have profound impacts on community resilience.



We’ll be designing to new guidelines that take an “all hazards” approach

Stuart Adams, Project Manager, Structural Engineer, Laurel, Maryland

In our efforts to develop resilient communities, we must consider efficient and effective opportunities to address the hazards of today and tomorrow. Focusing on a particular hazard while turning a blind eye to others is not a best practice for design. Similarly, considering only current hazard conditions without addressing future conditions—such as sea level rise, increased temperatures, and drought—limits the true long-term resiliency of the community.

When addressing identified hazards, design teams use the codes, standards and guidelines of our field. However, these are typically minimum requirements, occasionally have amendments that weaken provisions, and can sometimes be outdated.

Encouraging communities to adopt and enforce up-to-date codes, standards and guidelines without weakening amendments helps promote long-term resilient strategies. New building codes editions often include provisions to address lessons learned from previous disasters. For example, the latest International Building Code edition (2015 IBC) now requires communities located in the 250 mph wind zone to construct a storm shelter in new schools and emergency operations facilities. This addition was a direct result of the spring 2011 tornadoes that impacted communities such as Joplin, Missouri and Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Going beyond code can also help. For example, the new LEED pilot credits for resilient designhighlight the significance of incorporating a multi-hazards approach through a complete hazards assessment of the project site. One credit requires teams to identify all hazards, prioritize the top three, and plan to either complete a climate change vulnerability assessment or emergency preparedness plan for the site. Another credit provides requirements for specific hazard provisions that strengthen the code.


We’ll have to break down silos to maximize potential

Josh Human, Senior Hazard Mitigation and Resilience Consultant in Louisville, Kentucky

In the coming years, resilient thinking needs to become the norm and not an afterthought in dealing with the built environment. Currently our built environment is often managed in silos and this approach can put communities in harm’s way and create environments that don’t maximize their potential.

Resilient thinking can break down silos and force individuals to go beyond the confines of their specific expertise and think globally. Resilient thinking improves cooperation and harmonization and pushes you to understand the capacity and needs of other individuals and business sectors. This creates well-rounded actions that have been evaluated to understand how the action can influence our community’s resiliency on many levels—economic, social, environmental, disaster management, etc.

Thinking resiliently will provide our communities more opportunities to be successful and rebound during disaster events, but also sustain and prosper every day within their individual environments.

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