Cities are the most complex undertakings of the human race. Cities are in a continuous state of change and destroy and rebuild themselves in a process that looks like creative destruction.

And yet, they are highly organised with complex feedback processes that are subject to internal and external turmoil and reordering.

Internally cities have complex signalling systems that monitor the flows of resources through the actions of individuals and organisations. Internal and external influences can have positive or negative impacts that can lead to; destructive, disruptive or declining processes.

Even to the most casual observer it is obvious that some cities seem to thrive across relatively long periods of time while others rise, reach a peak and either declined or disappear.

Why is it so?

Framing the issue

External influences can be broken into for general groups; economic, environmental, human, and technological. Economic influences can be as straightforward as the removal of capital from one place to another or changes in the desirability of a place for activities like tourism.

Environmental impacts might include; cyclones, drought, bushfires, and might be relatively short-term or long-term impacts like the impacts of climate change.

Innovation and technology can change the fortunes of a city relatively quickly. Examples might include the development of the automobile, the development of the aeroplane which allowed the bypassing of many coastal cities, the development of the shipping container which rendered a number of coastal ports redundant in a relatively short period of time or a change in resource demand.

Terrorism, war and internal turmoil can also render the fortunes of the city to oblivion in a relatively short period of time.

However, economic, innovation and environmental change can be relatively uniform across large areas and yet some places respond more positively or recover more quickly than others.

Why is it so?

The ability of a city to return to a healthy state and the inability to recover and absorb shock can be looked at as the ability of a place to adapt to its circumstances.

There are any number of theories about why some places are more liveable, profitable and sustain their relative prosperity. Some of the theories are grounded in governance principles, others in the areas of social capital and community ethos while others suggest reliance on resource demand or the connection of one place to another.

I suspected that three things need to occur for a place to be or become adaptively resilient.

There must be clarity about the circumstances, what needs to be done and who will take responsibility for what actions.

The climate for cooperation, change management and innovation must be right. Local communities need to have high levels of trust for authority, the organising structures and their neighbours. To paraphrase Jean Jacques Rousseau; man is born free and yet everywhere is in chains. The chains of loyalty that we put upon ourselves seem to vary in strength from place to place. Is resilience predicated on social capital?

A qualitative method would be used with an initial data search to find suitable cities and then a questionnaire. Other processes would include Grounded Theory and Text analysis/Contextual analysis and detailed interviews as well as following conversations on relevant social media like Twitter, Face Book LinkedIn.

It is proposed to select three or four world capitals that have gone through economic change processes or changes that have resulted from innovation and technological development and apply a condition, pressure/impact, response, outcome methodology to look at an initial economic social and liveability state of the city, a human impact or economic change and the response processes that were set up to deal with the situation and the final outcome. Using an existing literature review and economic and social indicators across time will select three or four cities and then through questionnaires and interviews use these cities as case studies to find commonalities and differences that might lead to further research and indicate the role of social capital in the development of resilience or otherwise.

Key word might include; deliberative democracy, collaborative diversity, adaptive reliance, social capital.


Desouza, Kevin, Flanery, David; 2013, Designing, Planning and Managing Resilient Cities: a Conceptual Framework. Cities International Journal of Urban Policy and Planning Number 35, 89-99
Goulding, Christina, 2005, Grounded Theory, Ethnography and Phenomenology, a comparative analysis of three qualitative strategies for marketing research. European Journal of Marketing Volume 39 Number 3/4 2005 Emerald Group Publishing
Acemo─člu, D. & Robinson, J. A. 2011 Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty, Profile,