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Reframing Resilience, with a Livability Lens

As New York City and its hinterland, which includes parts of the states of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey, continue to emerge from the worst of three, hundred-year storms to hit this region in three years, could the challenges of creating resilient communities be any more prescient?

This week MAS is convening a meeting with urban practitioners from a range of sectors including architecture, planning, local government, industry, environment and the arts, to discuss the challenges and opportunities in building cities that are both livable and resilient. This inaugural meeting, hosted by the Rockefeller Foundation’s Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, Italy, will bring together people working in Mexico City, Mumbai, Johannesburg, Bandung, Hong Kong, Amsterdam, Delhi, Rio, Paris, Nairobi, Karachi, Sao Paulo and London. Participants include Patrick Adolwa, Eugenie L. Birch, Peter Bishop, Reon Brand, Nicolas Buchoud, Vin Cipolla, P. K. Das, Don Downey, Salvador Herrera, Sandy Houston, Lee-Sean Huang, M. Ridwan Kamil, Jimmy C. F. Leung, David Maddox, Mahim Maher, Cecilia Martinez, Nicolette Naylor, Alessandra Orofino, Sanjay Prakash, Mary Rowe, Bo Sin Tang, Eddie Torres and Sameh Wahba. A document with participants’ biographies is available for download.


This meeting is a first step in creating a Learning Network of innovative approaches to public policy, industry practices and community-led interventions that enhance livable resilient cities.

MAS has championed the livability of the city for decades, advocating that development always incorporate considerations of the local community, strengthening its assets through historic preservation and adaptive reuse, and ensuring that future economic opportunity is fully integrated into the cultural and natural environments in sustainable ways. Over the last two years through the MAS Summit for New York City and related programming, we have added resilience to our value list, recognizing it as an evolving capacity of New York City communities to adapt to every kind of challenge: economic, social and all-too timely, environmental.

New York City is not without experience in addressing disasters, but this particular experience now brings us into the not-so-rarefied company of New Orleans, Tokyo, Indonesia, and Christchurch whose own experience of the physical devastation of natural events has made the need to create resilient infrastructures of all kinds glaringly urgent. The cascading effect of Sandy, which began as a disaster affecting immediate public safety requiring the evacuations of tens of thousands of people, has now evolved into the largest infrastructural failing in this city’s history, and will continue to ripple out over the next several months and years.

At our most recent Summit we heard from Lisa Gansky, author of The Mesh, who talked about the inter-connectedness of a new, emergent local economy that thrives on dense entrepreneurial networks of exchange and the sharing of resources. Sure enough, in the aftermath of Sandy, the mesh has already begun to respond, with AirBandB offering people displaced by the storms (including many hotel-bound travelers) rooms in their neighbors homes, the local network of Greenmarkets which bring fresh produce and locally crafted goods to New Yorkers year-round has managed to mount markets within five days of the storm making landfall, and Lucky Ant, the New York City-based crowd-source on-line funding connector has already begun to post local business needs.

These hyper-local, granular initiatives are all part of weaving the recovery story, part of the vast networks of resilience that global cities are forming every day, in advance of the next challenge or crisis. Our meeting in Bellagio is the first step in creating learning platforms for organizations like MAS and their varied constituencies of planners and architects, city-building entrepreneurs, and community leaders to share examples of initiatives that make their cities more livable and adaptive, better equipped to respond to challenges of all kinds.

Questions we anticipate discussing include:

  • How can we forge better linkages between the livable city agenda that includes the arts, public spaces and lively local economy with the resilience planners who focus on hard infrastructures including bridges, roads, tunnels and transit?
  • What can we learn about formal (big, centrally controlled) and informal (hyper local) approaches to both livability and resilience?
  • How do we address the unique needs to larger, ‘global’ cities that some indices score very low on livability, but none-the-less are the generators of global capital, technology and social innovation?
  • What is the role of civil society leadership (of groups like MAS) in strengthening our cities to be more livable and resilient, especially in times of economic restraint from governments at all levels?

After the Bellagio meeting MAS will continue to develop the network and support learnings between practitioners, in what is becoming an ever-increasing field of interest.