by Janet Fanaki, Creator of RESILIENT PEOPLE
100 Resilient Cities aims to get cities around the world to be - well, more resilient. Funded by The Rockefeller Foundation, the goal of 100RC is to help them bounce back from environmental, economic and social challenges.
Toronto is one of three Canadian cities chosen to be a part of this dynamic initiative.
On June 4, 2019 the City of Toronto, through Resilient Toronto unveiled its first Resilience Strategy to a packed auditorium of academics, media, and city stakeholders including residents and program participants.
Climate change and social equity are the two main areas of focus in this report.
Toronto’s Resilience Strategy aims to give city planners and other departments a direction in helping to prepare for extreme changing climates while also assisting a growing group of marginalized residents.
Elliott Cappell, Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Toronto, explained the findings and where he hopes it will go.
“Toronto has a mindset that isn’t modern. It needs to catch-up to how big the city is going to get and today we are lighting a spark.”
According to Toronto’s city manager, Chris Murray, “The city is growing by 35,000 people per year, with a projection in the next 20 years of an additional one million residents.”
Mix this type of rapid growth with an aging infrastructure, the report sheds light on ways to prepare the city for the shocks and stresses to follow.
As the report states, “The city is getting hotter, wetter and wilder” and it needs a resilience framework to deal with climate change and how this affects different socioeconomic groups.
Flooding is a major challenge.
Anyone living in the city can confirm that Toronto has seen a record number of rain days in 2019 with flooding posing serious hazards, especially to the Toronto islands.
Elliott Cappell said, “Currently, it is difficult to point to which department within the City of Toronto is responsible for flooding” But, “through the new resilience strategy better partnerships would ensure that the right departments and agencies are working together. These could include water utility, transportation, Toronto Transit Commission and city planning.”
The second area of focus in the strategy is to help the equity-seeking (or better known as marginalized) residents.
These groups are more vulnerable to climate change and other societal stresses and shocks. Outdoor workers are a good example of this, or residents living in one of Toronto’s many low-income and aging high-rise apartments.
Currently over 50,000 Torontonians live in buildings that are 35 yrs old or older.
We see when a shock happens to such a structure, it comes with catastrophic consequences. Take for example 650 Parliament Street.
Earlier in the year, this building experienced an electrical fire to its outdated system which displaced 1,500 occupants for an indefinite amount of time. Their experience would be vastly different to that of a luxury condominium residence and its occupants.
One finding of the research showed that the city has underinvested in physical structures. With 45% of its rental stock in such buildings, the city needs to prepare for future shocks and stresses.
8,000 Torontonians participated in the research. In the beginning only white middle-class residents participated, but a move was made to engage more marginalized groups. They needed to learn how all residents experience resilience in different ways.
Being a part of The Rockefeller Foundation’s network allowed the City of Toronto to collaborate with other global cities and learn best practices.
Amy Buitenhuis, Senior Policy Advisor with the City of Toronto added her pick for a city doing things well. “Rotterdam is a city that faces challenges with water. They have installed public water parks that get filled with collected rain. When it’s not raining the spaces are turned into community space. It’s very inspiring.”
Elliott Cappell sites Boston as an inspiration. The city established an Office of Resilience and Racial Equity.
“Boston recognized that racial equity must be considered when implementing city services. Case in point, when potholes needed to be filled the protocol required a call to 311. The neighbourhoods with the most potholes distrusted government the most and would not call. The city needed to change the way that repair requests were done to address barriers to racial lines.”
The researchers admit that the document will not solve all of Toronto’s problems. But it does hope to light a spark for ideas and to start doing things differently.