5 mins

Territorial resilience: meaning and main implications for spatial planning

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic across regions and territories has been varied in terms of health effects and lockdown procedures. The impact of the health problems combined with the pre-existing economic and social conditions in each territory has generated a very complex array of pandemic territorial dimensions. Understanding the geography of the pandemic effects is still in progress. There is a huge opportunity to look at this in depth, particularly if the study of the mobility of people is aided by new data concerning the tracking of human flows before, during and after implementation of the lockdown restrictions.

At least as far as the planning of the new programming period in Portugal is concerned, regions (planning regions), intermunicipal communities (NUTS III) and municipalities are fighting against the uncertainty of the future in the aftermath of the pandemic. There is now a new and vibrant literature on what will be the main trends of change generated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This literature covers a very large number of themes and typologies of change. From the effects on global value chains, particularly relevant to more open territories, to the reconfiguration of labour processes and commuting flows, there is a vast number of potential trends to target and anticipate in the new programming period, not ignoring a wide array of sociological effects (consumption, housing demand, public space demand and others).

However, the promising help of international literature does not eradicate the problem of the uncertainty of the aftermath. The change trends identified by this flourishing literature must be considered in the context of local conditions, and this is not an easy task. Territorial resilience is at the heart of the green and just recovery goal.

When analysing regional, intermunicipal and local strategies submitted to public hearings and participation, one word emerges as a strong common denominator. That word is 'resilience'. The use of this word is so widespread that one may ask if it is just a fashionable term. In the world of spatial planning, the dissemination of fashionable vocabulary is very common. In my view, the diffusion model of knowledge among spatial planning researchers and practitioners is a good example of this.

"The use of the word reselience is so widespread that one may ask if it is just a fashionable term"

Curiously, in Portugal, the word 'resilience' (of communities, of people and, by extension, of territories) began to be used in relation to the preventive approach to rural and forest fires, which, as is well known, had devastating and tragic effects, including resulting in deaths, in the second half of the 2010s in some Portuguese regions.

Resilience is now mentioned beyond the preparedness of local communities to tackle forest fires. Resilience is now invoked as a spatial planning reaction to pandemic issues. Low-density territories (not only in demographic terms but also in terms of entrepreneurship supply and industrial fabric) were the first to invoke resilience as a strategic priority. Its use was a direct consequence of the forest fires. However, soon, other territories, including higher-density territories, began to present resilience as a priority in their strategies for the new programming period. In these cases, resilience was the key to proactive adaptations to learning by managing pandemics.

The concept has also been reinforced through the formulation of Portugal's national programme submitted within the framework of Next Generation EU. The title of the programme is Plan for Recovery and Resilience. The resilience rhetoric has now reached the national planning stage.

However, it seems to me that the fast dissemination of the concept does not mean that it is well internalised by economic and spatial planning. There is a lot of work to do in order to build a regional and local project design capacity that is able to turn the highly invoked concept into an effective way to tackle the problems and challenges encompassed by the concept of territorial resilience.

Using, for example, the concept proposed by Brunetta et al., territorial resilience is seen 'as an emerging concept capable of aiding the decision-making process of identifying vulnerabilities and improving the transformation of socio-ecological and technological systems (SETSs)'. The main challenge of the emerging concept comes (I agree with the authors) from the trespassing (in celebration of the work of one my intellectual mentors, Albert O. Hirschman of the analytical barriers between different disciplines. Trespassing, and not only surpassing, is the point. It is also interesting to compare the pandemic-led resurgence of the resilience concept with previous conceptualisation efforts.

The definition of territorial resilience proposed by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report (2019) - 'the ability of a system to absorb disturbance preserving the same functioning structure, the capacity of self-organization and adapt to stress and change' - helps us to understand that the principal challenge for spatial planning derives from the holistic approach required by the concept.

I think that is what is happening now with regard to the generalised invocation of territorial resilience in Portugal, observed in the preparation of the new programme for 2021-2027. Spatial planning systems and actors have a lot of work to do regarding

the metrics of being a resilient territory (what indicators should support the design of projects and programmes),

the selection of disciplinary approaches to make projects more robust,

the definition of the personal, institutional and local capabilities to be improved and (iv) the governance problems to solve in order to achieve effective resilience.

Sometimes, it seems that, independently of the paths we follow, the same big questions and our inability to solve them stand before us. When discussing how to turn territorial resilience into an operative approach, some of the big spatial planning challenges reappear: integration, management of interdisciplinarity, multilevel coordination and governance.

For current discussions of territorial resilience, as in so many other times, my experience as a spatial and strategic planning reflexive practitioner tells me that we should act and not be paralysed, although some key questions remain to be solved. As Bent Flyvbjerg showed us in 2001, intelligent social action requires not only 'episteme' (universal truth) or 'techné' (technical know-how), but also 'phronesis' (practical wisdom or prudence). That is a good way to end this short article.

António Manuel Figueiredo is Assistant Professor at Porto School of Economics, University of Porto (retired)  Head of Strategy and Innovation Board of Quaternaire Portugal

This article appears in Rural areas: an eye to the future

Go to Page View
This article appears in...
Rural areas: an eye to the future
Go to Page View
Wiktor Szydarowski, ESPON EGTC
The way into the future
The semester of the Portuguese Presidency of the
Now is the time for territorial, smart and ambitious investments!
Elisa Ferreira Europe's response to the crisis is
Thematic dossier
A Long Term Vision for Rural Areas to turn changes into opportunities
A new pathway is emerging for the prosperous future of rural areas
Fatima Bacharel Andreea China Rural areas:
The EU cohesion policy needs a universal basic income
Nowadays, the environment is a priority in the
Rural areas are entitled to the EU's cohesion and crisis response
Rural areas not only represent the smallest building
The future of Europe will depend on how we deal with rural areas
Peter Schmidt Stefano Palmieri The EU enjoys incredible
CAP reform and a Green Deal: an unmissable opportunity to promote agroecological practices
Guillaume Cros The Occitanie region is
How to harness the potential of rural areas to m ake them suitable places for innovation opportunities?
' Eugenio Giani In her speech during
Which future do you want for rural areas?
Marion Eckardt Last year, the European LEADER
Taking action to spur growth in French rural areas: the rural agenda
Marie-Lorraine Dangeard The Territorial Agenda 2030 provides
Reinventing Scandinavian Mountains
Jan Edøy Erik Hagen Em pirical
Landscape transformation programme: An institutional innovation model
Miguel Freitas The new European forest strategy
Rural networking to build a Long Term Vision for Rural Areas
Enrique Nieto In early 2020, the President of
The pandemic may help us re-discover places that were left behind
João Ferrão is a research professor at the
Cit izens and territories should feel the im pact of NextGenerationEU funds
In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, Local
The macroregional strategy for the Adriatic-Ionian Region: a common vision, a shared mission
Mathilde Konstantopoulou Following the end of the
Why we need new evidence to better address the social consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic
Nicolas Rossignol ESPON' s first attempt to
Older people’s interests in policymaking: a lesson from COVID-19?
Piera Petruzzi Member State governments have begun to
Development challenges for lake areas in the EU
Károly Fekete Éva Geletáné Varga
Leaping from a primary to a quaternary sector in a rural EU border area
Sandra Spule What are employment options for
Measuring the climate impact of spatial planning
Pauline Riordan Because of its broad reach,
Functional areas as emerging geographies: how to define and measure them
' Zintis Hermansons The understanding of different functional
Eco-clust er s as governance tools
Jacopo Riccardi Thijs Fikken Europe's urban-maritime
European Year of Rail 2021. Connecting places and people
Valeria Fedeli The year 2021 is the
Measuring digitalisation in regions and cities, matching the targets of the 2030 Digital Com pass
Anke Schuster Marek Bobiš The COVID-19 pandemic has
Driving and scaling-up innovation in cross-border digital healthcare from the demand side
Martin Gauk Angela Emidio The ESPON
Communicating Cohesion Policy on Planet Pandemia One year on
Image: Claudio Nichele Agnès Monfret Claudio Nichele Like
Communication in time of pandemics - INTERACT experience
Kevin Fulcher When COVID-19 arrived in Europe,
Interreg Europe communication during the COVID-19 pandemic
Petra Polaskova The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically
How to hold an international event when everybody is stuck in their homes?
Jenny Koutsomarkou Imagine the impact of the pandemic
Upcoming ESPON events Transnational Outreach
Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, all events will
Territorial resilience: meaning and main implications for spatial planning
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic across regions
Setting up the ESPON 2030 Program m e: heading towards the finish line
The last few months have been particularly intensive
Policy Brief on rural areas: More than just a publication
Fatima Bacharel Andreea China Since the
Outlook of the Slovenian presidency
Blanka Bartol TomaẐ Miklav Ḉ iḈ In
Looking for back issues?
Browse the Archive >

Previous Article Next Article
Rural areas: an eye to the future
Page 72