Resilience Practices

Resilience practices must be determined by communities most at risk, in order to foster equitable responses to the challenges of climate change. In-Place Resilience involves the capacity for adaptation within one's own environment, while Resilience Through Relocation involves voluntary relocations in the face of climate change risk.


Climate-fueled disasters have forced over 20 million people from their homes annually since 2008, with storms and floods as the main drivers of internal displacement.


Approximately 3.6 billion people worldwide are currently living in areas of high climate change vulnerability.


Paati (a public gathering space) in Thecho, Nepal, rebuilt following 2015 earthquake

Deepak Bajracharya

How should communities respond when environmental hazards threaten their safety and livelihoods? Not every community has the power to choose a response, but for those that do, determining the best path forward is challenging. The options exist along a continuum, from staying in place to relocating the entire community wholesale, with multiple variations in between, including selective relocation of some individuals. Whatever the decision, any change to the social, economic, or physical fabric of a community is an opportunity to increase or decrease equitable outcomes. 

It’s critical to give communities in harm’s way the ability to choose their own path forward, but it’s not enough. Effective practices must also be developed to ensure that changes on the ground truly improve the needed capabilities of community members, lessen their exposure to hazards, and integrate with other scales of adaptation. Here we look at key considerations for improving equity in resilience planning practices, which we divide into two groups. Resilience in-place includes practices that do not involve the substantive relocation of any community members. Resilience through relocation includes practices that involve partial or voluntary relocation of any community members, including one-at-a-time solutions such as buy-outs. 

It’s critical to give communities in harm’s way the ability to choose their own path forward, but it’s not enough. Effective practices must also be developed to ensure that changes on the ground truly improve the needed capabilities of community members, lessen their exposure to hazards, and integrate with other scales of adaptation.

Resilience In-Place 

Most people would rather stay where their jobs and communities are if they can do so safely. Adapting in place, where possible, allows social and cultural links to stay intact. But improving resilience in place involves more than adapting to hazards. An equitable approach to adaptation understands that a place is only as resilient as its most vulnerable citizens. Stephen Gray and Mary Anne Ocampo, “Resilient Edges: Exploring a Socio-Ecological Urban Design Approach in Metro Manila,” The Plan Journal 2, no. 2 (2017), is external) Beyond simple disaster risk reduction, equitable adaptation focuses on improving socioeconomic and physical infrastructure and is motivated by an understanding of resilience across multiple dimensions: environmental, economic, and social. 

For architects, planners, and other practitioners, implementing this approach effectively requires collaborative place-making. Practitioners must engage with exposed populations to help them understand the need to adapt and to figure out the best steps forward. That requires working alongside the people a project is designed to serve through a process of knowledge sharing, rather than top-down planning. 

Choosing strategies for adapting in place is complex. Outcomes may be considered “good” or “bad” depending on whose perspective is considered, which risks are evaluated, and which temporal and spatial scales are measured. Equitable resilience requires careful attention to local context and a constant reflection of resilience for whom, and from what. Lawrence J. Vale, “The politics of resilient cities: whose resilience and whose city?” Building Research and Information 42, no. 2: 191-201, Time is a key ingredient: because communities and environmental risks are always transforming, planning for adaptation in-place requires an adaptive, phased approach. Likewise, every project or intervention must be analyzed across multiple spatial scales, from the larger systems of the planet, continent, country, state, region, and city, down to the community, neighborhood, block, and particular site. 

Grappling with this complexity in space and time requires systems thinking. Alan Berger, Systemic Design© Can Change the World (Sun Publishers, 2009). What are the larger impacts of an intervention? How does a project relate to existing natural and social systems such as social networks, ecosystems, and watersheds? Understanding how systems work can help designers and planners negotiate potential feedbacks and domino effects. Planning in this context requires creating a framework for change that is flexible and adaptive. Ultimately, equitable approaches to resilience in place must bring all of these dimensions together: collaboration, flexibility, systems thinking, and inclusive definitions of resilience. 

Written by Mary Anne Ocampo and Lizzie Yarina

Community meeting in Basid village, Pamir Mountains, Tajikistan

Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH)

Resilience Through Relocation 

Relocation is a general term for a range of actions for adapting to environmental risks, including managed retreat, post-disaster resettlement, buyouts, and migration. Relocation is often considered only as a last resort. Leaving one’s home or community behind can be traumatic, starting over brings financial risks, and finding safer locations with welcoming receiving communities can be challenging. Unfortunately, government resettlement projects have a poor record of implementation; they often result in displacement rather than effectively planned voluntary relocation. For all these reasons, individuals and communities may not include relocation in their adaptation planning until their homes are destroyed and there is no other option. 

It’s increasingly clear to researchers and practitioners in the fields of climate adaptation and emergency and hazards management that relocation is a necessary or preferable option for many communities, but it’s more just and effective when the people who are moving chose and help plan their relocation. Any relocation involves profound social and environmental change. Individuals or communities can’t expect to maintain the same lifestyles, familial structures, or social dynamics in their new location. While there is limited predictive research on how these dimensions change, advanced planning can give those relocating more control to anticipate and shape their future homes and lives. Relocation planning is a research frontier that is developing concepts and methods for supporting a community’s vision of a safe and prosperous future. 

Relocation planning research focuses on vital social and environmental equity questions. Who decides when, where, and how to relocate? How are differential losses of property and privilege understood and weighed? Do those who decide not to relocate receive resources to adapt in place? How are the receiving communities impacted, and how should they support the relocating community? The use of land itself—both the original site and relocation site—also raises questions about equity in the distribution of hazards and opportunities. 

These questions are not easy to resolve, and it may be difficult to agree on what balanced or equitable outcomes look like. Planners, facilitators, and other experts overseeing relocation programs must determine how to manage equitable outcomes when some actors resist a rebalancing of power or don’t agree with how gains and losses are measured. Relocation thus requires ongoing monitoring, evaluation, and adjustment, but this learning process can lead to new practices that put equity at the forefront. One of the major contributions of planning and design in this process is to help communities envision new and neglected alternatives. By expanding the range of possibilities and helping community members envision their consequences, planners and designers can create new opportunities while reducing risks for all. 

Written by James L. Wescoat Jr. and Lizzie Yarina 

Learn more about
equitable resilience

Forms of Power