Book review: Resilience and Urban Disasters: Surviving Cities

edited by Kamila Borsekova & Peter Nijkamp and reviewed by Josephine Marion Zimba

17 Oct 2019, 9:45 a.m.
Josephine Marion Zimba

Resilience and Urban Disasters: Surviving Cities book cover

Book review: Resilience and Urban Disasters: Surviving Cities

edited by Kamila Borsekova & Peter Nijkamp and reviewed by Josephine Marion Zimba

Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2019; 275 pp.: ISBN: 978-1-78897-009-9 (hbk); 978-1-78897-010-5 (eBook), £22.00 (eBook)/£95.00 (hbk)


Over the past years, researchers’ interest in the study of disaster impact analysis and recovery processes has been increasing. This steady increase has not spared those keen on understanding such processes within an urban context. The significance of such studies cannot be overstated especially when, as of 2018, most cities are vulnerable to at least one type of disaster, be it floods, cyclones, landslides, earthquake, drought and volcanic eruptions (United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2018). Comprehensive analysis of impacts of and how cities recover from such disasters is required and Resilience and Urban Disasters: Surviving Cities is a resource endeavouring to contribute towards effectively addressing that need.

Resilience and Urban Disasters centres on the significance of systemic perturbances in cities or urban agglomerations. It moves away from the focus on the scientific study of the evolutionary patterns observed in urban systems, which often pay attention to such theories as catastrophe theory, chaotic theory, complexity theory, etc. The volume contends that most forecasts on recovery processes have usually contradicted reality. To address this anomaly the book focuses on presenting quantitative and qualitative tools for analysis of the urban recovery process following a shock. In this way, it also addresses the often-neglected effects from a shock rather than effects arising from gradual changes. Shocks/disturbances covered in this volume include earthquakes, terrorist attacks, landslides, floods, accidents, ransomware and swine flu pandemics. As such, through its methodological and policy underpinnings, the volume contributes immensely to our understanding about how cities survive and recover from catastrophes.

The volume consists of 11 chapters authored by 22 contributors. The contributors include Professors, Emeritus Professors, Associate Professors, Senior Lecturers and Research Fellows who have vast and great experience and expertise in their disciplines which they skilfully use to develop the chapters. They intertwine their diverse disciplines, such as economics, geography, urban planning, political science and computer science, to enrich discussions in the volume. The chapters are organised in three sections according to the key thematic areas the chapters primarily address.

Part 1 contains chapters that focus on methodology and disaster impact analysis. In this section, contributors demonstrate how different methodological approaches used in disaster impact analysis bring a different perspective to disaster impacts. The chapters illustrate how different methodologies are used to deconstruct some seemingly obvious impacts of urban disasters. Thought-provoking arguments are made, such as those in Borsekova and Nijkamp’s work (chapter 1) in which they demonstrate that disasters have the potential to bring about economic benefits in the long term where appropriate and where a comprehensive community-centred approach to risk assessment, identification and management exist. So too, the other chapters support this section with novel illustrations using different analytical tools, mostly quantitative, of how the impacts of disaster on firms vary across sectors, while highlighting the role of firms’ initial profitability in determining the outcomes of a shock (Fabling et al., chapter 2); the role of future expectations and financial support in determining economic strength in the disaster recovery process (Morisugi et al., chapter 3); and how post-disaster population changes interact with economies at the sub-regional level (Ishikawa, chapter 4). This section evidences that carefully employed analytical tools offer an opportunity to deeply understand disaster impacts and the recovery process.

The second section is more miscellaneous, capturing case studies on resilience. This section attests to the fluidity of the term ‘resilience’ with indicators of resilience ranging from ‘reducing vulnerability’ (Seçkin, chapter 5) to ‘mere existence of the city’ (Zamyatima and Goncharov, chapter 7). Such a fluidity led to a case where resilience and sustainability are used interchangeably. Much as the two terms may be related (Derissen et al., 2011), their interchangeable use may be confusing. The plurality in this section extends to the shocks for which resilience-enhancing mechanisms were focused; ranging from terrorism (Seçkin, chapter 5) to construction of urban infrastructure (İnal-Çekiç and Özügül, chapter 6). This variety, in addition to the methodological creativity, competently shows how resilience of cities is a complex process which makes it difficult to discuss resilience of urban systems in the entirety of the concept. However, the section generated resilience-building strategies to terrorism for the tourism industry in Turkey using an Analytic Hierarchy Process-based methodology (Seçkin, chapter 5); illustrated how an indicator-based method is used to assess adaptive capacity of neighbourhoods facing displacement owing to urban transformation (İnal-Çekiç and Özügül, chapter 6); and demonstrated the uniqueness of Arctic cities’ instabilities and their associated resilience-enhancing mechanisms (Zamyatima and Goncharov, chapter 7).

In the third section, authors centre on Policy, prevention and recovery analysis. Much as the intention of the volume is to highlight both quantitative and qualitative tools used in disaster impact analysis and management processes, this section covers more on the latter. It employs descriptive analysis in its simulation and scenario-building chapters, as needed for better policies and recovery. For instance, Tafti (chapter 8) largely uses qualitative analysis of data from archival reviews, on-site mapping and semi-structured interview data in exploring how market-led resilience-enhancing mechanisms exclude the urban poor, thereby creating a different socio-spatial setting and transferring vulnerability to other areas and scales. And in an extremely unique fashion, Fabian, Rysova and Dobrik (chapter 10) bring to the reader’s attention urban disasters associated with non-geophysical hazards. Their work focuses on presenting how to design scenarios and simulate crisis management using an Emergency Enterprise Manager KRIMA (EEM KRIMA) program tool to ensure that, in the event of a disaster, adequate resources are available and all tasks are performed in accordance with the prevailing legal and policy framework. Grinberger and Felsenstein (chapter 11) conclude the book describing an improved agent-based simulation of recovery from a disaster which incorporates a labour market submodel to explain interdependences between stock and flow in realising urban recovery from disasters. This improvement of the model to incorporate the labour market in an analysis of urban dynamics after a disaster highlights the notion that urban areas do not necessarily stabilise on a new state but keep evolving in relation to occurrences in systems outside the affected area. The section advances novel approaches to simulations and scenario building which allow for identification of weaknesses in existing policies and improvement of policies for effective management of activities before, during and following a catastrophic event.

In many chapters, the authors foreground the approaches used to analyse disaster impact and recovery processes. Emphasis is placed on how particular tools of analysis, with prominence given to quantitative tools, are used to understand such processes in urban contexts. With a few exceptions, most analyses show cities as closed spatial units with sparse incorporation of processes occurring at scales other than the cities under study to elucidate the observed situations. In this regard, such analyses risk overlooking the fact that urban systems such as cities are metabolic entities often characterised by movement of people and resources across defined boundaries (Currie et al., 2017) at times also induced by global forces (Chelleri et al., 2015). Recognition of such processes would, to some extent, augment the discussions on the impacts and recovery processes observed in the respective studies by considering forces of influence emanating from outside the physical extent of the cities for a more comprehensive analysis.

The strength of Resilience and Urban Disasters, therefore, lies in the comprehensiveness of the methodological approaches used in individual chapters. This allows the volume to smoothly foreground disaster impact and recovery as not a foregone conclusion; substantiating differences across geographical locations and sectors within the same geographical location.

As such, Resilience and Urban Disasters is a valuable resource for readers interested in economic and policy-based themes of urban disasters and resilience. It ably captures methodological approaches and impact analysis of urban disasters, heavily using case studies from European and Asian countries, although there is one from New Zealand and another covering the global context. However, to some extent its limited geographic area confines the focus to particular disasters, with earthquakes taking prominence. Consequently, it risks limiting possible areas of replicability in different geographical settings with low risks to such disasters.

Accordingly, readers keen on engaging with theoretical themes and geographical settings outside the aforementioned may be discontent, as these are tangentially addressed in the current volume.




Chelleri, L, Waters, JJ, Olazabal, M, et al. (2015) Resilience trade-offs: Addressing multiple scales and temporal aspects of urban resilience. Environment and Urbanization 27(1): 181–198.
Google Scholar | SAGE Journals | ISI


Currie, PK, Musango, JK, May, ND (2017) Urban metabolism: A review with reference to Cape Town. Cities 70: 91–110.
Google Scholar | Crossref


Derissen, S, Quaas, MF, Baumgärtner, S (2011) The relationship between resilience and sustainability of ecological-economic systems. Ecological Economics 70: 1121–1128.
Google Scholar | Crossref


United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2018) The World’s Cities in 2018 – Data Booklet (ST/ESA/ SER.A/417). New York: United Nations.
Google Scholar


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