"Remaining the same or becoming another?" – Adaptive resilience versus transformative urban change

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Structural change of cities has long been a central theme in urban studies. Recent manifestations of urban change have been described either as instances of ‘adaptation’, often associated with flexible adjustment and reorganization, or ‘transformation’, implying a deeper and more radical scope of change. The conceptual difference between these two ideas, however, remains surprisingly under-theorized and ambiguous in the extant literature. We find both notions casually (and at times even interchangeably) employed in recent debates on ‘resilient cities’. Addressing this conceptual imprecision, our commentary focuses on the structure-identity relationship, coupling resilience thinking with an institutional perspective that has provided the intellectual moorings for recent scholarly approaches to city identity. Through this prism, city identity is firmly conceptualized as a distinctive set of socio-political values; the structure of a city, then, provides the means to realize these values. In consequence, we are able to offer a precise conceptual differentiation between what we here dub ‘adaptive resilience’ and ‘transformative urban change’ as the two facets of change in city contexts: If structural change is accompanied by a shift in socio-political values (and thus a change in identity), we refer to this as transformative; if no such identity shift takes place, this is an instance of adaptive urban change, primarily on the level of structures. We illustrate our argument with the empirical case of the City of Vienna. Overall, our commentary’s ambition is to add nuance, clarity, and conceptual precision to the debates on resilience currently raging in the field of urban change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1300-1310
JournalUrban Studies
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2022

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