Long-term sustainability necessitates an inherent and essential capacity for resilience – the ability to recover from disturbance, to accommodate change, and to function in a state of health. In this sense, sustainability typically means the dynamic balance between social-cultural, economic and ecological domains of human behavior necessary for humankind’s long-term surviving and thriving. As such, long-term sustainability sits squarely in the domain of human intention and activity – and thus – design; it should not be confused with the ultimately impossible realm of managing “the environment” as an object separate from human action. Instead, the challenge of sustainability is very much one for design, and specifically, design for resilience.
A growing response to the increasing prevalence of major storm events has been the development of political rhetoric around the need for long-term sustainability, and in particular, its prerequisite of resilience in the face of vulnerability. As an emerging policy concept, resilience refers generally to the ability of an ecosystem to with- stand and absorb change to prevailing environmental conditions; in an empirical sense, resilience is the amount of change or disruption an ecosystem can absorb and, following these change events, return to a recognizable steady state in which the system retains most of its structures, functions and feedbacks. In both contexts, resilience is a well-established concept in complex ecological systems research, with a history in resource management, governance and strategic planning. Yet despite more than two decades of this research, the development of policy strategies and design applications related to resilience is relatively recent. While there was a significant political call for (implied) resilience planning following New York’s Superstorm Sandy in 2011 and the ice storm of 2013 in Toronto and the North- Eastern US, there is still a widespread lack of coordinated governance, established benchmarks, implemented policy applications, tangible design strategies, and few (if any) empirical measures of success related to climate change adaptation. There has been too little critical analysis and reflection on the need to understand, unpack and cultivate resilience beyond the rhetoric and to develop specific tactics for design. Design for resilience would benefit from an evidence-based approach that contributes to adaptive and ecologically responsive design in the face of complexity, uncertainty and vulnerability. Put simply: What does a resilient world look like, how does it behave and how do we design for resilience?