Session 42: Resilience in the urban landscape: Improving human well-being


Session Abstract

Cities are habitat for people. They are ecosystems of built and natural elements, of flows and socio-ecological processes, of designed and wild nature, of people, communities and civic spaces between buildings. Are we designing our urban landscape with key socio-ecological principles and knowledge in mind? Cities are social-ecological spaces and must be thought of as such if they are to be designed for resilience, sustainability and livability. The session combined theory and practice, inductive and deductive work, to offer real world examples and insights. It reflected the fundamentally multi-disciplinary nature of socio-environmental research in urban spaces and addressed their essential relevance to city building by gathering speakers that span the design-biophysical, science-social science continuum. The session provoked further exploration into how design and multidisciplinary science can work together in new ways to create cities that work better for people, for nature and for the future.

Some ideas explored (not an exhaustive list):

  • What do people want from their outdoor urban spaces? What do they need?
  • Movement toward a design ethos grounded in the sciences of ecology and sociology.
  • Designing spaces that build on local ecology, local patterns and native species.
  • Urban nature and multi-functional ecosystem services that contribute to resilience, sustainability and livability.
  • Cultivating better dialog between design, science and city management.
  • Future research that helps to better incorporate resilience perspectives into urban planning.

Keywords: ecology, well-being, urbanization, nature


Key Discussion Points

  • The sustainability objectives of one city can undermine the sustainability objectives of other cities.  This involves issues of justice and equity, which are fundamental to sustainability.  We need to think about systems of cities rather than individual cities.
  • Questions of scale and boundaries, which are often viewed as finite by local government officials, are often underestimated.  The rural and peri-urban areas have as much to do with urbanization as the cities themselves. 
  • Parks are not necessarily the panacea that they are made out to be, especially in areas where there is a danger in using them, and where maintenance of the park becomes prohibitive. 
  • What does it mean that nature is not a revenue-generating service in the urban context?  It may not be revenue-generating, but it can be revenue-saving, e.g., mental and physical benefits of ecosystem services help save in healthcare costs.
  •  In certain areas, the bulk of green space is private space, e.g., domestic gardens in middle- and high-income homes.   This brings up questions of access and equality.
  •  Increases in city density can cause the loss of ecosystem services and biodiversity, for which is almost never compensated.
  • Are we trying to changes the value of green spaces, or are we trying to change the values of the people who live near those spaces and, therefore, increase the value with which those people view the green spaces?
  • Children often bear the brunt of injustice of urbanization and are unable to voice their experiences.  



Thomas Elmqvist, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm, Sweden

David Maddox, The Nature of Cities, New York, NY, USA

Harini Nagendra, Azim Premji University, Bangalore, India



Timon McPhearson, The New School, New York, NY, USA

Presentation Title: Taking advantage of big data and the internet of things to advance the social-ecological study of urban system complexity

Harini Nagendra, Azim Premji University, Bangalore, India

Presentation Title: What is a good ‘urban’? Who decides? Stories around a lost lake in Bangalore

Shuaib Lwasa, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda

Presentation Title: Resilience in the urban landscapes: Improving well-being in rapidly urbanizing Africa

Keitaro Ito, Kyushu Institute of Technology, Kitakyushu, Japan

Presentation Title: Resilience in the Urban Landscape: For sustainability, we need collaborative nature restoration

David Maddox, The Nature of Cities, New York, NY, USA

Presentation Title: Resilience in the urban landscape: Improving human well-being

Thomas Elmqvist, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden

Presentation Title: What is a good city in the Anthropocene?


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