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Defining Resilience

Clients often ask us, “what does resilience actually mean?” Turns out, there are many definitions of this word. Ecologists may think of the stability of soils with deep-rooted grasses, while urban planners may think of infill development strategies. Regions across the nation are tasked with creating resilient economies. To do this, economic development practitioners must have a clear understanding of what resilience means in different contexts. Here, we have compiled some definitions of resilience and given examples of how we incorporate resilience into our work at Fourth Economy.

In land use planning, resilience will often focus on smart growth: the belief that developing farther away from hazards minimizes risk to those developments when a disaster arises. Additionally, smart growth includes redeveloping underused land parcels (infill development), advocating for higher density housing (dense growth), and decreasing urban sprawl by building up instead of out. Traditional land use planning provides false security to people living in dangerous areas, like those living in the wildland urban interface (places where wildfires often occur) and those allowing or encouraging continued development in this space. Resilience planning can also mean preparing communities “to reduce hazard risk and to respond effectively to disasters,” which is particularly important due to issues such as rising sea levels. A timely example of this includes rising seas eroding some of Virginia’s islands, particularly Hog Island which has been sinking quickly.

Fourth Economy applied the land use planning definition of resilience when we worked with the City of Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority to prevent the out-migration of residents and promote economic growth through the creation of a Transit Revitalization Investment District (TRID). For each instance of resilience, there is an initial shock and then a response and/or prevention of future shocks, so all examples will clearly highlight these elements. In this example the shock was the out-migration of residents, and the response was to recommend attractive development in the transit hub study area. In line with the land use planning definition of resilience and community goals, we suggested the client support infill development and apply for additional funds along with TRID funds to reduce the risk of out-migration.

In economics, resilience has two major distinctions: static economic resilience and dynamic economic resilience. Static economic resilience is the ability to continue working when shocked, In economics, resilience has two major distinctions: static economic resilience and dynamic economic resilience. Static economic resilience is the ability to continue working when shocked, while dynamic economic resilience is the ability to quickly recover from a shock. Both forms of resilience require a reference point to understand how resilient an economic system has been. The reference point for static resilience is the worst case outcome, while the dynamic resilience reference point is the “normal” recovery path.

While working with the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts to understand the economic impact of the arts and culture sector, Fourth Economy applied the dynamic economic resilience definition when addressing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on this sector, and recommending potential recovery strategies. In this project, the shock was the COVID-19 pandemic, and the response from Fourth Economy was to recommend increased support for the arts and culture sector as a way to accelerate recovery of not only the arts and culture sector but the economy as a whole. In our final report we provided examples that demonstrated how tapping into the arts and culture sector allowed other communities to persevere during recessions and unlock latent potential – all of which aligns with the definition of dynamic economic resilience, and therefore hastened recovery.

Fourth Economy followed the definition of static economic resilience while working with the Nature Conservancy of Indiana and BellWether Research where we researched public opinion around clean energy and completed an economic impact analysis on increased investment in clean energy. In this project, the shock is climate change and the response is to increase clean energy investment and use. At the time of this engagement, coal – a major source of energy for Indiana – was imported from out of state. Fourth Economy’s recommendation to source and develop energy within the state of Indiana and decentralize energy plants proposes a way to maintain electrical function during shocks (tornados, thunderstorms, etc.) and therefore promote static economic resilience.


Every client’s set of circumstances are unique and requires practitioners to apply the appropriate definition of resilience. As the Fourth Economy team works towards a more resilient, equitable, innovative, and collaborative world, we invite you to learn more by exploring our past and ongoing projects.



Rose, Adam. 2017. Defining and Measuring Economic Resilience from a Societal, Environmental and Security Perspective. N.p.: Springer Nature Singapore. 10.1007/978-981-10-1533-5.


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