Shaping Resiliency

[Resilience is] the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow, no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.

100 Resilient Cities – Pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation

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Introduction

The Vancouver City Planning Commission (VCPC), in collaboration with the City of Vancouver100 Resilient Cities, and Simon Fraser University’s Public Square, hosted an invitational Summit on resiliency and Vancouver’s future on October 25, 2017. The summit aimed to encourage dialogue among thought leaders, experts and influencers from the public, private, non-profit and academic sectors.

The 100 Resilient Cities Network, pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation (100RC), includes four Canadian cities: Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. In addition to sharing city-to-city learning, membership in the network provides two years of support for the position of Chief Resilience Officer; access to curated partners, services and subject matter specialists from the private sector and academia; as well as tools to guide the city’s resilience evaluation, decision making and investments.

 Highlights of Discussions [1]

Opening Speakers

Hereditary Chief Janice George reminded participants of our interdependence and reflected on one of Vancouver’s earliest disasters, the Great Vancouver Fire of 1886, when the Squamish people saved the settlers lives and brought them safely to the north shore.

Jeb Brugmann, Director of Solutions Development & Innovation at 100RC, focused on “From Risk to Performance: Putting Resilience into Practice”.  He stressed that applying a resilience lens requires a holistic approach and the integration of plans, policies and initiatives. The objective is not just to understand risk, but also to make risk assessment and strategizing part of everyday professional practice.

Katie McPherson, Vancouver’s Chief Resilience Officer, introduced the 100RC’s City Resilience Framework and updated participants on the preparation of the City’ Preliminary Resilience Assessment. The results of her consultations to date have identified the top stresses as affordable housing/homelessness, social isolation, economic inequality, aging population, lack of mental health care and drug abuse. The top shocks identified are: earthquake, public health emergency (opiate crisis), infrastructure failure, hazardous material/oil spill, extreme weather/climate change, cyber attack and flooding. During the working groups later in the day these priorities were largely confirmed and one table group added the threat of nuclear attack.

Nola Kate Seymoar, Chair of the Vancouver City Planning Commission, facilitated a session on envisioning a more resilient future. Participants ‘ visions clustered around several themes: social resiliency and equity; better governance and cooperation among all orders of government; electoral reform; the devolution of power and financial resources to the city and community level; urban design; housing and mobility options; increased green space and common properties; and economic reform to manage international capital and real estate speculation. It was noted that Vancouver’s future will depend upon its’ ability to harness emerging and disruptive technologies to foster social connection and support a sharing economy.

Working Group Discussions

Working groups explored four themes:

Groups were challenged to summarize and prioritize one promising action that could be taken in the short term, one in the medium term and one for the long term to present to City of Vancouver decision makers for consideration during the final session of the day.

A City for All

Participants envisioned a city with unfettered access to services; to landscapes and spaces; to financial equity; to cultural amenities and distinct cultural areas rooted in a historic responsibility toward decolonization and reconciliation.

In the short term the priority would be to commit funding to develop connections – (real or virtual), promote greater collective problem solving and break down silos in and between City Hall, community and advisory groups.

In the medium term the priority was on political reform at the municipal level. One promising idea was to establish Vancouver Resource Boards with a framework aligned with resilience strategies.

In the long term the vision was to achieve true engagement at the systemic level to build resilient communities.

Engagement for Real

In the short term, the priority was on capacity building using existing infrastructure and resources and ensuring an ongoing process available in different languages. Related to resiliency, participants identified the need to be proactive and focus on risk communication.

In the medium term, the priority was on pilots and projects that devolve power to the community level. Promising ideas include local community engagement in resiliency planning and co-design at the neighbourhood level.

In the long-term structural and financial reforms were prioritized to share power and resources more equitably; provide a greater separation of business interests and government; new sources of funding related to emergency preparedness and prevention; mandating universal design; and electoral reforms, including mandatory voting and proportional representation, to raise participation rates.

Financing the Public Good and Public Spaces
Robson Square during 2013 Viva Vancouver Robson Redux installation.
Photograph by the Vancouver Public Space Network.

Discussions were premised on the necessity of financial transparency and publicly decided upon trade-offs and translate into affordability and equity for families and people.  Looking to the future financing must encompass potential shocks and stressors, including social factors as well as economic well-being .

Promising priorities in the short term included implementing variable tax rates (not mill rates), raising property taxes; aggregating retrofit projects to secure financing; extracting development values from investments in public transit (land lift); empowering BIAs to own/run local infrastructure and using P3’s with community oversight to finance resilience retrofits and new projects.

Most of the long term ideas for financing involved reforms and new funding mechanisms on which preparatory planning and action should be taken now; including modifying the Vancouver Charter and federal, provincial funding mechanisms to increase access to available capital, issue bonds and enable a wider range of financing mechanisms.

 Communities and Corridors
Mole Hill
Heritage homes in Mole Hill in Vancouver’s West End

In the short term the highest priority was a much broader mix and diversity of housing typologies (family housing, elders affordable housing and rentals) within connected neighbourhoods and developments. Financial innovation was key to enable such mixed-use communities. Co-op and co-housing, community lands trusts and other forms of home ownership or leasing were supported.

The medium term priority was for community infrastructure that supports grassroots engagement, both public open spaces and community facilities (places to meet, gather, advocate, educate and seek refuge in a disaster) backed by financial partnerships.

Longer-term priorities focused on expanding complete streets,  support to local businesses and greater multi-purpose use of public spaces and facilities (for emergencies, events and community gatherings). There was recognition of the need to connect regionally, and also to do more bioregional planning for food, water, waste, and energy security.

The long-term priority included restructuring the political and financial system to devolve powers to the regional, city and community levels.

Reporting Back and Reflections by City of Vancouver Decision Makers

These short, medium and long-term priorities were presented to City decision makers[2] In order to facilitate their candid responses Chatham House rules were applied.  It was noted that the focus of the Summit discussion was on social and economic rather than technical approaches to resilience. Although many of the decision makers were already familiar with some of the ideas, these suggestions were coming from a very diverse group of people from different advisory groups, sectors and backgrounds.  The context of resiliency invited a more integrated approach, generating ideas that address more than one need at the same time.  During the dialogue that followed, several participants expressed their appreciation of the politicians’ and staff’s willingness to listen and respond candidly.  The overall tone of the session was one of respect for, and interest in, one another’s ideas.

Conclusion

On the basis of the response to the Summit, there is high interest among a wide diversity of stakeholders regarding Vancouver’s resilience. The Summit was over-subscribed, exceeding the expectations of the sponsors.  The overall evaluations of the content after the events, both formal and anecdotal were highly positive. The Chief Resilience Officer intends to incorporate many of the ideas into the City’s Preliminary Resiliency Assessment.


Notes

[1] The full report of the Summit will be posted to this website in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, videos and presentation slides from the opening speakers are also available on theis website.

[2] Participants in the closing session included: City Councillor Andrea Reimer, Commissioner Cassey Crawford, and Malcolm Bromely from the Parks Board, Deputy City Manager Paul Mochrie, and General Managers Jerry Dobrovolny (Engineering), Bill Ajula (Real Estate), Kathleen  Llewellyn-Thomas (Community Services), Kaye Krishna (Development) and Licensing) along with Deputy Chief Howard Chow of the Vancouver Police Department.  Councillor Adrianne Carr, Parks Board Commissioner Catherine Evans and several staff from Planning, Urban Design and Sustainability attended the day but were unable to stay for the final session due to other commitments.