The ‘resilient’ and the ‘good’ city: how tensions in managing urban heat arise

18:00 Tuesday 28 May




Maurice Skelton (Switzerland) 1,2; Christian Pohl (Switzerland) 1; Suraje Dessai (United Kingdom) 3; David N. Bresch (Switzerland) 1,2

1 - ETH Zurich; 2 - MeteoSwiss; 3 - University of Leeds


When do controversies in urban heat adaptation arise? We present empirical evidence highlighting that adaptation options are critically examined, and possibly resisted, when experts’ notions of a ‘resilient’ city do not match essential qualities of their notion of a ‘good’ city. If such options are to be successful, experts and policymakers ought to frame and manage climate risks by aligning notions of ‘resilience’ with that of a ‘good’ city.


We triangulate three sources: documents on urban heat published in Switzerland; n=24 interviews with experts working in local administrations, applied universities or consultancies, from multiple relevant sectors; and observations of n=2 workshops. We manually coded the sources to identify emergent themes.


Our analysis revealed four interlinked themes.

  1. Knowledge of the impacts of ‘urban heat’ varies greatly between sectors. We find that sectors sharing similar concepts to climate scientists are more aware (building technology, urban greens) than sectors with a different style of thinking (spatial planning, health). Unsurprisingly, sectors more aware of impacts are also those that propose specific adaptation options.
  2. There was wide agreement about what increases the urban heat effect (e.g., sealed surfaces), and what options cool a city (e.g., greening, passive cooling). Interestingly, the use of climate information remains negligible across all sectors.
  3. Experts prefer climate risk management options that align best with their notion of a ‘good’ city.
  4. Tensions between and within sectors arise when an adaptation option increases a city’s resilience but reduces a particular quality an expert associates with a ‘good’ city. Examples include, the greening of cities leading to a ‘suburbia’ aesthetic, or preferences for heat gain prevention vs. free cooling in buildings. These examples indicate that opposition to particular adaptation options is not necessarily tied to sectoral awareness of the impacts of urban heat.


Our results indicate that representatives from affected sectors see ‘urban heat’ as a welcome opportunity to discuss and negotiate elements constituting a ‘good city’. Paying attention to diverging notions of a ‘resilient’ and a ‘good’ city allows to understand tensions and resistance among experts within and across sectors. Similar to mitigation, an expert’s values influences her support of, or resistance towards, adaptation options. In order to facilitate the implementation of adaptation options, more attention needs to be paid as to how they (mis-)align notions of a ‘resilient’ and a ‘good’ city.