New ebook: Resilience Matters

Resilience Matters; Sustainable, Equitable Solutions. This new, free ebook available from Island Press; here is the direct link to the 175 page book.

Thanks to reviewer Dr. John Plodinec for reading the book and preparing this review. John is the Associate Director of the Community and Regional Resilience Institute. Here is his review:

When I’m evaluating a book like Resilience Matters, the first question I ask is “Did it make me think?”  If it didn’t, then I’ve wasted the hours I spent with it.  I don’t have to agree with what the book says; often disagreement goads me to examine why I don’t agree (That’s the genesis of many/most of the comments I’ve made here over the years!).

It is difficult for a collection of 40 short essays (all originally published elsewhere) on various aspects of resilience to do that consistently.  And so it is here – some of the essays are thought-provoking, some have novel takes on mundane topics, and some I wished I’d skipped over.  The book is at its best when it provides quick case studies to illustrate a point.  It’s at its worst when it slips into polemics (which it does far too often for my taste).

The Introduction, by Laurie Mazur (the editor), is quite good.  I especially liked her framing of resilience as “the capacity of a community to anticipate, plan for, and mitigate the risks—and seize the opportunities—associated with environmental and social change.”  While I disagree with her on the importance of economic inequality (speeding up social mobility is much more important), she made her case in a clear and concise manner. Her “Ask-Analyze-Act” rubric and her statement that “resilience requires a holistic view” all made her essay worthwhile.

The rest of the collection is organized into seven sections:

  1. Climate change and adaptation.
  2. Health, food and water.
  3. Urban development and infrastructure.
  4. Environmental and social justice.
  5. Transportation.
  6. Nature and sustainability.
  7. Energy.

However, dealing with climate change is really the major focus of the book.

High notes – Baylen Linnekin’s essay on “Bee Bans and More.”  This uses a case study to make the case for performance-based rather than prescriptive food regulations.  Ben Plowden on “London’s Olympic Legacy” extracts some valuable tips for a more resilient transportation system from the example of the London Olympics in 2012 (It would be interesting to contrast London 2012 with Rio 2016.).  In fact, I thought the entire Transportation section the best part of the book.

Other little gems – Mitchell Silver’s “Parks:  Not Just for Picnics” reminds us of the importance of parks as a part of a city’s infrastructure.  Vanterpool and Byron’s take on the creation of the Bronx River Greenway.

Harnik and Hiple’s “If It Doesn’t Have a Bench, Is It Still a Park?” stands out for three reasons: it’s the longest essay in the collection (7 pp); one of the few that provides a balanced look at a contentious urban issue; and one that clearly reflects the authors’ well-thought-out point of view without descending into polemics.  In fact, I was so impressed with it that I looked for a few other pieces from these folks (Their piece on parking for the Memphis Zoo is well worth seeking out.).

Low points.  The essays that mentioned Trump.  The essays that stated as a fact that we needed to restructure society and the economy (presumably doing away with capitalism) to deal with climate change (Why hasn’t someone applied the Precautionary Principle to that?).  The kneejerk acceptance that fossil fuels are entirely responsible for the warming climate and sea level rise.  The problems I had with these were not that they argued for or against something I believed in; it was that they didn’t argue, but simply assumed that their position was right as if there could be no argument.

Thus, I can neither condemn nor recommend this tidy collection.  If the polemics don’t bother you, there are some valuable nuggets here.  If you’d prefer to have pronouncements on policy independent of partisanship, then you might not want to bother.

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