Durban’s Resilience Strategy

Developing Resilience Guidelines for stormwater, land-use and ecological infrastructure for the Northern Spatial Area eThekwini and developing a Resilient Framework for the Northern Spatial Area eThekwini


Scoping the potential for using ecological systems as a key input for Durban’s resilience strategy and building an understanding of the resilience-building priorities in the northern spatial development plan area of eThekwini municipality. This project included research to understand the role of ecological systems and the built environment in reducing risk and enhancing urban resilience.

The aim of this project was to assist the Environmental Planning and Climate Protection Department (EPCPD) of eThekwini municipality to better understand the potential contribution of ecological systems to reducing risk and building urban resilience in the eThekwini municipality in Durban, South Africa. Durban is part of the first group of 33 successful cities in the 100 resilient cities (100RC) programme that was launched by the Rockefeller foundation. The aim of the 100RC programme is to assist cities around the world to build urban resilience in the face of a future where slow onset issues (e.g. environmental degradation) and acute shocks/stresses (e.g. flooding) are likely to become more prevalent. The key output from the first two years of the 100RC programme is a city ‘resilience strategy’. A key milestone on this journey was the ‘resilience agenda-setting workshop’ that was held in September 2014 with Durban stakeholders and the 100RC team from New York.

Participation in the 100RC programme also provided a great opportunity for eThekwini municipality to bring together a range of initiatives currently underway within the municipal area. It was an opportunity to work with a range of stakeholders to develop a co-ordinated and integrated resilience plan for the city of Durban. Part of the challenge was translating global ideas around resilience into the local context. The observed global erosion of the ability of ecosystems to generate services not only demands increased understanding of the relationship between urban biodiversity and human health and well-being, but also requires that this knowledge be quickly translated into urban planning, management, policymaking, and governance. Cities that are designed and developed using sustainability and resilience best practices can support or even enhance the capacities of ecosystems in and around cities to provide ecosystems services.

Ecosystem resilience is the capacity of an ecosystem to tolerate disturbance. A resilient ecosystem can withstand shocks and rebuild itself when necessary. Resilience in social systems refers to the added capacity of humans to anticipate and plan for the future. Resilience is also therefore a property of linked social-ecological systems. Attributes contributing to general resilience include systems that have: diversity, modular structure, quick feedback loops, ‘open’ system qualities, reserves and a basis on adaptive governance.

The biomimicry methodology applied to the built environment aims at enabling buildings and infrastructure to become assets that are able to integrate and produce ecosystem services. in this way they can give back to the environment more than they take from it, while contributing to quality of life and human well being.


Mapping the appropriate design and planning scenarios for the area to provide a clear delineation of the built area and ecological infrastructure and to illustrate how development can contribute to ecosystem services.

The biomimicry methodology applied to the built environment aims at enabling buildings and infrastructure to become assets that are able to integrate and produce ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are the benefits people obtain from the resources and processes supplied by ecosystems e.g. clean drinking water and decomposition of wastes. Following this methodology means buildings and development can give back to the environment more than they take from it while contributing to quality of life and human well-being. We study local organisms and ecosystems to provide guidance, models, and metrics for how to generously and resiliently live in the area. The genius of place process generates the following components that can help to frame and guide a resilience framework for the eThekwini municipal area:

1. Ecological keys to resilience: research that provides a vital understanding of the ecological context of the area, which helps the design team optimise ecological health without jeopardising the functional integrity of local ecosystems.

2. Ecological performance standards (EPS): success metrics based on healthy reference habitats in the area. These are used as comparisons/performance indicators for ecosystem services to be produced by ecological infrastructure as well as buildings, roads, and other and infrastructure.

Geodesign GIS-enabled methodology assembles and manages complex geographic and ecological data into scenario planning and predictive modelling. Scenario planning using geo-design adds further value to our methodology as a key decision-making tool for helping to define a way forward with stakeholders regarding the city’s resilience strategy. The project uses an innovative cutting edge form of urban design planning based on biomimicry and enhanced by geo-planning. This approach focuses on risk reduction and improved resilience aimed at achieving long-term economic benefits, improved human well-being and ecological integrity.