#73 - 26 March 2021

Is resilience useful?

Resilience is everywhere: in the French National Assembly, where MPs are debating the Climate and Resilience Bill, which is largely based on the work of the Citizens Convention for Climate; in multilateral institutions, with the OECD Secretary-General proposing to the G7 countries an emergency forum to assess the resilience of global production and supply chains. This is not surprising: the pandemic, a health shock, creates a chain reaction on the economy, society, and even, tomorrow, here and there, on the stability of political systems; and resilience is about coping with a shock, i.e., ensuring that systems continue to function despite said shock.

But a question must be asked: do all those who say the word “resilience” have the same thing in mind? This is rather unlikely, as the concept is so complex and debated. For Angel Gurría, resilience is inseparable from openness and fairness in international trade. But a European citizen who sees the number of people vaccinated in the US or the UK soaring would be tempted to conclude that resilience requires nationalism, protectionism, and 'every man for himself'. The same type of reflex can be observed at the local level, with this idea of a need to return to the local, to proximity, and even to self-sufficiency, which would be the major lesson of the pandemic. It doesn't matter that we didn't have to ask ourselves the question of what we were going to eat when we were confined, precisely because of the multiplicity of supply chains; yet, the idea is anchored that local food is "good" in essence.

If we really want to talk about resilience, it might be useful to remember that it starts with an understanding of the facts and causes of the crisis. In this case, if the lesson we learn from this crisis is a shift from the all-global, marked by an opportunistic splintering of supply chains to the detriment of their security, to the all-local without assessing the considerable risks associated with it (centuries of history are there to remind us of this), then this crisis will have served no purpose. “We will be lost if we turn in on ourselves; saved only if we work hard with our brains to know better and imagine faster”. Let us not forget these words by Marc Bloch (L'étrange défaite, p. 182) when we speak of resilience, to remember that sovereignty is not protectionism, just as autonomy is not autarky. The virus is global, the solutions to it – the vaccines – pure products of globalization. This observation is just as true for tackling the other immense challenges, for example environmental challenges, that our cities and territories must face. – Cécile Maisonneuve, President


No time to read? La Fabrique de la Cité has got you covered.

MISSED TARGET – According to Estonia’s National Court of Auditors, the fare-free transit strategy is missing its target. While the measure allowed the country to stop the share of public transport users from plummeting any further, it has not reduced the modal share of cars. Why? The public transport offer is not attractive for potential transit riders that currently use their car. The solution would be to better take into account the current needs of car users in the design of future public transport services. – Camille Combe, Project Manager

→ Related: our note on fare-free public transportation, from our report “Funding mobility in a post-carbon world”.

– How can the shortage of affordable housing in America's dynamic metro areas and their suburbs be solved? Between calls for the massive development of social housing and those for exclusive and “walled” suburbs, a third way is emerging, which cities such as Frisco (Texas) and South Jordan (Utah) are experimenting with. It consists in diversifying the suburban housing stock “for a wide variety of budgets and life stages”. – Sarah Cosatto, Research Officer

→ Related: our publications on affordable housing.

ENERGY, HEALTH, EQUITY – The issue of energy renovation in housing, already well identified before the health crisis, has since become much more acute. Professor Jonathan Levy, of Boston University, reminds us that the impact on health of poor insulation, particularly for the most vulnerable, has increased with time spent at home. Renovating buildings is a crucial issue not only for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and boosting the economy but also for promoting health, reducing health-related costs, and promoting equity. – Chloë Voisin-Bormuth, Director of Studies and Research

– In November 2018, a collaboration between TfL and Bosch was launched with an aim to improve the city’s functioning by harnessing the potential of digital imaging and artificial intelligence and by sharing knowledge and data. According to recent declarations, the program “has boosted traffic flow in the capital, improved road safety and contributed towards a reduction in air pollution. Will this collaboration be presented as an example to stop working in silos and trigger more innovation partnerships? – Sarah Cosatto

→ Related: our research project on healthy and active cities.

“FAUX COMMUTERS” – The rise of telework has meant the end of commuting for many people, making some of them nostalgic for that “buffer” time between private and professional life. “Faux commuters” then recreated it by devoting a part of their day to walking, cycling, driving... Between total telework and daily presence in the office, intermediate arrangements, perhaps in the form of coworking spaces, will emerge. – Sarah Cosatto

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