The world, in its thinking in terms of resilience and considering society as a social-ecological system, is at drift. At least for public leaders and their civil servants, resilience is the new buzzword. It is rediscovered because our ancestors knew already what it was. So actually nothing new.
Resilience in itself is a deep and fundamental concept. It exists as a mechanism long before mankind populated the earth. But for most of us now it is a completely new concept. Maybe it is a psychological reaction, a gut-feeling, that back to basics is key and the search for arguments to improve present public governance is something elementary. There is something elementary about resilience, isn’t it?
Maybe it is wise to consider – to not start all over again and come in the sandbox of what resilience is and what it is not – to bring it close to the existing frame of the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is actually about resilience. The first principles for these were defined in the 1987 Brundtland Report Our Common Future, developed from there via the Millennium Development Goals (Battersby et al., 2017) and agreed as a set of goals (17) and targets (169) for 2030.
Agreed though is very relative, because every city today is allowed to take his own route, with its own defined scenario pace and policy planning, with own personal perspectives of its public and business leaders. Every city is in principal free to act, without legislation, without obligation, without formal contract or agreement, without consequences, without accountability, without defined responsibilities related to final leadership.
The resilience as the total sum of feed-back mechanisms may potentially be embedded in the present social-ecological system of society, but the fact that all the SDG goals and targets in their actual status arestructurally way out of balance (personal formulation, based on United Nations, 2019), showing significant deviations from the desired equilibrium, i.e. the optimum public value, suggests that it is not functioning as assumed.
Today’s society seem to be in a lower ecosystem status than we have declared ourselves as the ‘Belle Epoque’. It seems for many of us a far away over the mystic horizon picture, a dream scenario, a fata morgana. Nice but unreachable. We know (and see on the daily news) that we are not resilient – let us be honest – to tackle daily declines to lesser states of the ecosystem city and not be able to prevent, in some societies, to fall back to even the zero-state. Of course we may dream about, put hope in and give all our optimism (‘a moral duty’, Kant (1795)) in resilience. But the facts speak otherwise. The ‘ability to bounce back’ is relative or even absent.
Resilience is a nice word, suitable for politicians, policy makers and dreamers of far horizons. For those who have no food, no water, no freedom, for those who live in fear, in poverty or are completely lost in a war, it is an empty word, a missing link.
JACK P. KRUF
The SDGs are best defined in my view as a call for implementing collective ‘clear conscience’ for our children and grandchildren It is intentional, a frame for good governance, a manifest for respect and a caring-for-the-earth-attitude and for true stewardship. Noble and pure. It is styled, but also highly segmented. How can 1 city manage 17 goals and 169 targets with governmental councils that have an average of 37 political responsibilities divided over 6 political parties and with a constantly shifting accountability city landscape?
The network of cities does cooperate in all kinds of ways. Necessary to come to results. No city can do this on its own. This has lead to a rich palette of excellent and above all inspiring initiatives and projects. But, there is one big but, the political landscape of cooperation in the city network of a total of 195 countries – with an average of 4 years between elections – changes every week. With the election frequency per country, state or province taken into account, this means that the overall landscape of cooperations changes every day!
Well, who will receive the Nobel Prize for Public Governance in 2030 to link 1 to 17 to 169 into one coherent approach? Since March 2020 there is a dashboard launched by United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) for following the SDGs with 232 indicators. That is a lot. It will be necessary to more and more play the holistic card. How? Interesting!
Battersby, J. (2017) MDGs to SDGs – new goals, same gaps: the continued absence of urban food security in the post-2015 global development agenda. African Geographical Review, 13(1), 115-129.
Kant, Immanuel (1795, republished 2003) Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch. Cambridge: Hackett Publishing.
The Brundtland Report: World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) (1987) Our common future. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.
United Nations General Assembly (2015) Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. A/RES/70/1.
United Nations (2019) The Sustainable Development Goals Report. New York: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs.