The federal government along with many state and local governments, has gained painful, firsthand knowledge about how major disasters, such as Katrina or Sandy, can envelop and cripple American cities. Disasters carve in stark relief the characteristics of urban areas that help them endure crisis or rebound quickly from disaster. They serve as a type of x-ray film illuminating a city’s “broken bones” — the systems critical to its thriving, but which are missing or mired in dysfunction. Governments at all levels now face the daunting challenges of rebuilding and adapting cities to ensure that they are stronger than before.
A common, fundamental question being asked is: How do we develop flexible communities that can withstand disaster but also adapt to the myriad challenges posed by natural hazards, economic crises, dramatic population shifts, and climate change?
We suggest that governments develop a City Resilience Index to measure cities’ comparative resiliency. This policy tool would employ quantitative metrics that provide critical data to governments, allowing them to identify current problems, track progress, and create more refined incentives for cities to incorporate specific programs and policies into their current and future planning. It would also provide vital, comparative data for the formulation of targeted responses to catastrophic disasters. In this article, we examine two important components of virtually every city: (1) housing and (2) historic resources. We then identify factors that are critical to evaluating resilience in these areas and suggest how these factors might be measured in a City Resilience Index.