Backgrounder: Resiliency

By Marnie Tamaki, Commissioner, Vancouver City Planning Commission and Samantha Anderson, Volunteer, Vancouver City Planning Commission

Moving forward, Vancouver can and should be a global leader in resilience. Now more than ever, we recognize the strength of our residents and the Value of our communities in creating a more resilient Vancouver, a future in which there is space for all people to thrive.

Preliminary Resilience Assessment, City of Vancouver

Defining Resilience

Urban resilience is the ability to survive, adapt, and thrive in the face of challenges and changes. For our communities, resilience is the bounce back factor, the creative factor, the survival factor, the ability to imagine the future and be ready for it. It is the ability to initiate, mediate, mitigate and maximize the change for the common and individual good.

Resiliency = transformation


In 2012, Vancouver adopted the Climate Change Adaptation Strategy in order that Vancouver can remain a liveable and resilient city maintaining its values, character, and charm in the face of climate change. In this case, resilience is the ability of a system and its component parts to anticipate, absorb, accommodate, or recover from the effects of a hazardous event in a timely and efficient manner.

In 2016, Vancouver was accepted into the 100 Resilient Cities network pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation, and committed to developing Resilient Vancouver on five theme strategy areas: Reconciliation; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Ecological – Health and Economy; Building Community Capacity; and, Affordability. The four focus areas are Neighbourhoods, Buildings and Infrastructure, Economy, and Government.

The Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, aiming to increase the resilience of City infrastructure is technically oriented and seeks to improve understanding and knowledge, as well as enhance opportunities for networking and partnership with communities and especially the organizations that serve those most vulnerable. These have a key role to play in any Resilience strategy. Vancouver has a number of other initiatives such as the Resilient Buildings, Resilient Neighbourhoods, Greenest City Action Plan, and Healthy City Strategy that also feed into the overall Resilient Vancouver initiative (a complete list is available here).

Also in 2016, The Vancouver Planning Commission approved Habitat III’s New Urban Agenda (NUA) as its guiding framework. NUA provides a framework for resilient and sustainable urban development at the local, national, and international level for the next 20 years. In moving this agenda forward, VCPC, in partnership with the City of Vancouver, 100 Resilient Cities, and Simon Fraser University’s Public Square, held an invitational Summit called Shaping Resilience: Resiliency and Vancouver’s Future on
October 25, 2017. The Summit and a community dialogue held the day before were opportunities for the public and representatives of urbanist, planning, service provider, and advocacy organizations to have input into Vancouver’s Preliminary Resilience Assessment (pdf).

The City through its Resiliency Office and supported by the 100 Resilient Cities Network released the Preliminary Resilience Assessment after six months of broad consultation in 2017. It identifies affordable housing/homelessness followed by social isolation, economic inequality, aging population, lack of mental health care, and drug abuse as major stresses to Vancouver. The shocks most likely to affect the city are: earthquake, public health emergency (opiate crisis), infrastructure failure, hazardous material/oil spill, extreme weather/climate change, cyber attack, and flooding.

At the 2017 Shaping Resilience Summit, participants also identified a number of ways in which Vancouver could become most resilient – improving governance and cooperation among all orders of government; electoral reform; the devolution of power and financial resources to the city and community level; better urban design; housing and mobility options; increased green space and common properties; and economic reform to manage international capital and real estate speculation. The ability to use new technologies to foster social connections and support a genuine sharing economy was identified as critical to Vancouver’s future.

At the 2018 City for All Summit, many of these themes were explored further. The Resilience Roundtable focused on the resilience of organizations such as non-profits and local businesses that the Assessment had identified as assets to a city by strengthening residents’ connection to people and place. Local organizations that have changed and adapted in the face of uncertainty shared their stories and identified a number of recommendations that would bring about systemic change in support of a robust civil society sector.

The stresses identified by the Assessment were discussed in one way or another at all the roundtables, with affordability and social isolation the most prominent. Discussions identified how these stresses were interlinked – for example, affordability negatively impacting the ability of people to socialize and therefore increasing social isolation, or the likelihood of local businesses or non-profits to remain in their communities. Many of the organizations identified resilience as part of their mandates including addressing environmental degradation and climate change, improving seniors’ sense of resilience and belonging, and increasing the resilience of the local economy. While recommendations throughout the roundtables addressed specific stressors (e.g. tackling social isolation through the provision of space for more informal encounters or through cross-generational programming), one theme running through the recommendations and echoing that of the Assessment was the need for place-based and especially neighbourhood-based solutions.

VCPC recognizes that Resilience is only possible with the awareness, organization, cooperation, and action of our communities and neighbourhoods, including the governmental and non-governmental, the business and non-profit organizations.

This is what will make all the difference: your ability to apply yourselves with creativity and resiliency to meet what lies just over the horizon.

Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, June 2019 Honorary Doctorate Address