Breaking resilience in the urban system for improving resource efficiency: the case of the waste sector in Penang, Malaysia

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Many have emphasised the importance of strengthening urban system resilience. However, resilience can affect cities in adverse ways. Weak governance in cities in developing countries has detrimental outcomes, which are reinforced by the strong resilience of the urban system. Thus, breaking the resilience of urban systems in the first place is necessary to advance the agenda of sustainability avoiding the return to the initial (unsustainable) state. The paper examines the case of solid waste management (SWM) in the city of Penang Island, Malaysia. Three main factors facilitated the weakening of the system resilience and improved resource efficiency in SWM: engagement of civil society, local control of waste management and institutions that bridged the intergovernmental relations. The paper argues that defining the right system boundaries and having a combination of external and internal pressures over the system can help to break resilience and advance the sustainability agenda in cities.

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