Resilient urban systems: a socio-technical study of community scale climate change adaptation initiatives

Infrastructure Climate change adaptation Urban resilience

The Resilient Urban Systems project has sought to understand how community-scale energy and water systems influence community adaptive capacity and resilience to climate change. Because this pilot project focused on only two case studies, findings are preliminary and should be treated as indicative. Further research, involving case studies across a broader and larger range of contexts, is needed to verify and test their validity. Six provisional findings are drawn relating to infrastructure design for climate change adaptation.


  • Finding 1: The resilience of community-scale infrastructure systems, such as water supply or energy generation, results from the interaction of diverse and context specific technical, institutional and social ‘enablers’.
  • Finding 2: Climate change poses few direct short-term threats to the local energy and water systems examined. However, both developments also depend on larger energy grid and reticulated water systems subject to indirect threats from climate events and future change.
  • Finding 3: Climate adapted infrastructure requires integration of technical, institutional and social resilience. Where uncertainty exists regarding future operating conditions, institutional, and social enablers may prove to be particularly important in ensuring resilience.
  • Finding 4: There has been an emphasis on technical resilience in the design of novel infrastructure systems at the expense of community and institutional enablers of resilience. This may place certain communities at risk from climate change and other disturbances, particularly where social capital is weak, and where system designers and investors have limited on-going responsibility for the functionality of systems.
  • Finding 5: Victoria’s current regulatory landscape poses few direct barriers to the replication of the systems examined but it does restrict innovation in community-scale infrastructure systems.
  • Finding 6: Community scale systems potentially provide both advantages and limitations over conventional centralised systems. Integrating centralised and distributed system models may maximise advantages and minimise limitations associated with both models. An integrated system comprising linked provisional infrastructure at multiple scales may offer the best way to build resilience at all levels - from resource producer to resource user.
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