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A critical examination of urban resilience in an era of authoritarian environmental governance
1  Worcester Polytechnic Institute


This paper examines urban resilience theory and practice under authoritarian urban governance. Urban resilience is framed as a unifying translocal concept for governing cities worldwide. However, urban resilience research expresses largely democratic ideals. This tendency is expressed through the assumption of data-driven decision-making and popular participation in practice and the validity and integrity of data sets, access to formal government proceedings, and elite interviews in scholarship. However, authoritarianism is presently on the rise worldwide. Therefore, it would be wise to evaluate closely the ways in which authoritarianism influences urban resilience.

In this paper, I aim to open a discussion about the relationship between urban resilience and urban authoritarian governance. I characterize the ways in which regime types are relevant to theories, planning, and implementation of urban resilience through a discussion of Singapore and Tianjin, China as models of authoritarian urban environmental governance. I evaluate the controversial claim that authoritarianism is more capable of responding to the complex, multi-scale, socio-ecological problems associated with environmental degradation and climate change. In other words, greater concentration of political economic power and corresponding restriction on individual liberties may be needed to transition toward resilient futures. Then I discuss the practical and methodological challenges that rising authoritarianism raises for the planning and implementation of resilient cities. I conclude by posing a series of questions and challenges for urban resilience scholarship in an increasingly authoritarian era.

Keywords: authoritarianism; regime type; environmental governance; resilient cities; urban resilience