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Resilient Urban Systems: Where We Stand Now and Where We Need to Go

Resilient Urban Systems: Where We Stand Now and Where We Need to Go

By the year 2050, close to seven billion people will be living in urbanized areas worldwide, which is almost double the number of urban inhabitants of today. Provision of adequate infrastructure service to this massive urban population in order to ensure their health, wealth, and comfort is going to be a daunting challenge for engineers, planners, and socioeconomic decision makers in the coming decades. However, the challenges faced by the developing and developed worlds are dissimilar in nature. While the developed world is coping with aging infrastructure, the developing world faces the challenge of keeping up with the brisk pace of urbanization and the consequential rise in infrastructure demand. In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) awarded the US infrastructure an overall grade of D+ and estimated that USD $3.6 trillion needs to be invested by 2020.1

When considering how to reshape, redesign, or create urban areas to be more sustainable, it is imperative to include urban infrastructure systems (UIS) in the decision-making process. UIS are durable features of the urban form and exhibit a strong form of path dependence. UIS have a pronounced effect on the general topology of the urban system and how the urban area continues to grow spatially over time. UIS, with a typical design life of 50 to 100 years, continue to dominate the urban form and mediate the citizens, goods, services, energy, and resource flows into, within, and out of the urban areas for decades after the design decision has been made. For example, transportation planning often has a prescriptive effect on the growth pattern of an urban region. Empirical estimates suggest that one new highway built through a central city reduces its central-city population by about 18 percent.2

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