Building resilient cities

Resilient cities are more than just sustainable – their connected communities have the capacity to respond to stresses and shocks.

Cities are hotbeds of growth and social change, and by 2050, they’ll be home to more than two-thirds of the world’s population.

Today, 4.2 billion people live in urban areas, according to the United Nations, a huge increase from the half a billion people that lived there in the 1950s.

This rapid urbanisation is occurring in a world facing constant social, economic and ecological disruption. These changes often play out most strongly in cities, where population growth and movement heighten the intensity of stresses and shocks.

150M people live on land that will be below the high-tide line by 2050.

Source: New York Times


Green spaces like parks and urban forests provide sanctuary for people while also cooling environments, improving air and water quality, mitigating flooding, supporting biodiversity and sustaining urban ecosystems.

But resilient cities are about more than traditional sustainable design and green infrastructure. They have the capacity to survive, adapt and grow – even under chronic environmental stresses.

Resilient cities look holistically at the interaction of systems such as transport and water management, and also at economic factors, to understand a city’s vulnerabilities and opportunities to shape better infrastructure investment, and increase liveability.

Change is happening faster than ever. In the coming decades, cities will contend with changes in technology, transportation, regulations, energy production, the climate, population growth, as well as shifts in people’s attitudes towards work, relaxation, and social justice.

Source: Australia21


Socially cohesive and strong communities respond better to disaster. We’ve worked with cities and communities around the world, designing and delivering resilient urban strategies, infrastructure and public realm. We do this through community-led engagement and radical design thinking.

Our approach to resilience focuses on creating quality public spaces and better communities. Resilience to disaster is as much about how communities are able to organise themselves in urban space as it is about major infrastructure.”

Richard Mullane, Hassell Principal

We use tech-enabled, evidence based analysis like overlaying sea-level rise scenarios on municipal utilities, or analysing data usage from wearable technologies, to highlight overlooked places and people and start conversations we need to have.

We use stakeholder workshops to build coalitions. Traditional town hall meetings no longer cut it. Our toolkits create opportunities for community embeddedness that generate real conversations.

Some of our standout resilience projects

500mi / 800km of shoreline


  • Re-imagines a series of San Francisco waterfront communities as vibrant, public places for everyday use – but also vital for environmental and emergency needs.
  • Developed for the Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge, a research and design project that has community and government stakeholders working with local, national and international experts on the challenges of climate change and ecological disaster around San Francisco Bay
  • This proposal envisions a network of green spaces, creeks and revived high streets serving as points of collection, connection and water management – from the ridgeline to the shoreline and across the bay via an enhanced ferry network.

The can-do pragmatism of Collect & Connect – Resilient South City is complemented by an aspect of poetic ecological thinking – a wide-angle approach that links the area’s mountain to its city and its bay … it looks up as well as looking down.”

Sarah Ichioka, Desire Lines

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Image: Hassell+



  • The centrepiece of the green games’ and a benchmark in post-industrial restoration, transforming a former industrial site into the site of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games
  • Restored the ecological processes of Homebush Bay’s lowlands into functioning waterways and wetlands, reflecting a commitment to conservation
  • Many of the project’s innovations have now become normal practice, such as the preparation of the park’s activity based programs in tandem with its physical design.

Almost fifteen years on from the concept plan, the Millennium Parklands have proven to be a success. They have reinvented what was a highly contaminated site into well-used and well-loved parkland … today Millennium Parklands is used and loved by the community.”

Landscape Architecture Australia

Image: Ethan Rohloff



  • Proposed a 2-million tree forest – 1 for each child – at the heart of a 25-year plan for an emerging world city
  • 50 local schools would become custodians of the forest, within new outdoor classrooms and through treeplanting events
  • Our master plan framework outlined key structuring elements (such as street and pedestrian connections, transport interchanges and major public spaces), plus strategies for the delivery of individual projects, spaces and buildings.
  • 25% more green space and better air quality

Countless new places for Shanghai’s people to immerse themselves in nature. 

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Image: MIR, Hassell, TTT Architects



  • An integrated design framework to reposition one of Australia’s fastest growing and climatically vulnerable cities
  • Plans around nine key strategic ideas expressed as three primary areas for action
  • Acknowledged as a milestone study of integrated transport and land use planning – fundamental to a more resilient future.

The study tackles head on the issue of traffic dominated thoroughfares, to advocate for the pedestrian experience on cooler, greener and more attractive streets.”

Australian Institute of Landscape Architects 2014 National Awards jury

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  • Commissioned by local council to re-establish the high street as a place of enterprise and community
  • Transformed a vacant tenancy into the South End Ideas Shop’ – a hub to shape the community’s vision for the street
  • Improved tired shopfronts, pedestrianised and planted the street, and created a Meanwhile Toolkit’ of pop-up uses to bring shops back to life
  • Shop vacancies reduced from 25% to just 5%
  • Increase in restaurant license and planning applications that take dining into the public realm
  • Local pride seen in positive feedback from businesses and residents to Council 

Playful and well done … a lovely little vignette. Suddenly it becomes a place where you might want to loiter rather than hurry along.” 

Amanda Levete, Royal Institute of British Architects MacEwen Award jury member

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Image: Jakob Spriestersbach

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