Comparing conceptualizations of urban climate resilience in theory and practice

Sara Meerow, Melissa Stults

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


In the face of climate change, scholars and policymakers are increasingly concerned with fostering "urban resilience". This paper seeks to contribute towards a better understanding of synergies and differences in how academics and local decision-makers think about resilience in the context of climate change. We compare definitions and characteristics of urban climate resilience in the academic literature with a survey of 134 local government representatives from across the U.S. Our analysis shows discrepancies in how academics and practitioners define and characterize urban climate resilience, most notably in their focus on either "bouncing back" or "bouncing forward" after a disturbance. Practitioners have diverse understandings of the concept, but tend to favor potentially problematic "bouncing back" or engineering-based definitions of resilience. While local government respondents confirm the importance of all 16 resilience characteristics we identified in the academic literature, coding practitioners' free response definitions reveals that they rarely mention qualities commonly associated with resilience in the scholarly literature such as diversity, flexibility, and redundancy. These inconsistencies need to be resolved to ensure both the usability of climate resilience research and the effectiveness of resilience policy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number701
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 21 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Adaptation
  • Climate change
  • Climate resilience
  • Resilience
  • Resilient city
  • Urban resilience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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