Cities are one of humankind s more enduring creations. Although historically cities have perished,
urbanism has not; declining urban areas have either revived or new cities have taken their place.
Additionally, with the increasing rate of urbanisation cities have not only increased in number but also
in size, while simultaneously their impact on the environment has grown, giving rise to debate on the
sustainability of cities. However, this becomes a difficult task given that our cities are experiencing
unprecedented challenges, of rapid urbanisation, strained and aging infrastructure, social unrest, and
the increasing impacts and concerns of climate change. The need for cities to adapt or die has never
been greater. The concept of resilience presents a possible solution to help deal with this
unpredictable nature of the future. It refers to a system s (a city for example) ability to withstand
sudden shocks, like floods, while at the same time having the capacity to adapt to long?term,
incremental, changes, like climate change and global warming.
As the concept of resilience has become ever more popular within the scientific and planning
community, the need to understand this concept and its implications is becoming more important.
However, to do this we must first take a step back and understand the theoretical
principles/foundations on which resilience theory has been built. Resilience is an emergent property
of complex adaptive systems (CAS). Thus, to understand resilience, we must first understand CAS.
Complexity theory seeks to understand how complex systems work. One of the ways that complexity
theory does this is by understanding properties and mechanisms that allow complex systems to
function and survive. Cities can be described as complex adaptive systems as they are undeniably
complex and exhibit the same properties that can be found in any CAS.
Through the study of social?ecological systems (SES), which are also CAS, researchers have identified
that social?ecological systems go through periodic cycles of change, each cycle with its own identifiable
characteristics. These cycles of change have been described through the concepts of Panarchy' and
the Adaptive Cycle . This study seeks to apply these concepts to the study of urban change in an
attempt to test their usefulness in understanding the urban system and how it changes.
The concepts from complexity theory and SES theory have been brought together and presented in
this study in the form of a framework. The aim of the framework is to describe the urban system and
how it changes. The proposed framework has potential to be both a useful theoretical construct and,
with some adaptions, a useful tool or manual for practitioners in the field who need to make sense of
the complex environments in which they find themselves. It is expected that the framework will
become another instrument in a planner s toolbox by means of which they can make better informed
Dissertation (MTRP)--University of Pretoria, 2016.