Building a resilient city from the ground up
Published on 30/10/2017
As part of 100 Resilient Cities, a $164-million funding commitment from the Rockefeller Foundation, 100 cities across the globe have begun to craft resilience strategies, the best ways to deal with catastrophic climate events, and everyday stresses such as growing inequality and poverty, failing infrastructure, and the scarcity of deeply affordable housing. As one of these 100 cities, Toronto recently hired its first Chief Resilience Officer (CRO), and is in the beginning stages of developing its own resilience strategy.
Creating a successful strategy is a daunting task. As noted in the city’s own press release, the CRO will not only need to define the city’s major challenges, but will have to work with groups and individuals from across the city that have never worked together before, and navigate and break down the many different barriers that currently exist in government.
We would argue that Toronto is already a resilient city, and this is where we must begin. While the concept of resilience may not be familiar to everyone, hundreds of thousands of Torontonians understand, and know, what it means to be resilient. It may not be by choice, but they are resilient every day as they negotiate the rising costs of housing, transit, child care and food, and the difficulties of finding decent work. Somehow they find a way to survive these stresses, if only barely.
For a resilience strategy to be successful, people need to be engaged from the outset. It must be built from the ground up and place people at the centre. Taking such a people-centred approach to the strategy’s design, implementation, and evaluation means that processes will include the meaningful engagement of all people, especially those who have traditionally been marginalized from decision-making processes — Indigenous peoples, racialized communities, women, newcomers, people with disabilities, and people living on low incomes.
As the new CRO starts his work on Toronto’s resilience strategy, he has the opportunity to connect with and draw on the expertise, and the resilience, of all Toronto residents. He can best advance the strategy through a process that is co-designed with residents and acknowledges and addresses barriers to the engagement of people who are harder to reach. This will ensure that people with a breadth of lived experiences not only share their stories, but are also treated as valuable partners and collaborators in the decision-making process. An ongoing, co-designed and collaborative process has space for people to contribute thoughtful analysis and critical feedback to design, implementation, and evaluation.
Engaging people meaningfully is a long-term commitment. It’s a commitment that moves beyond a consultation-heavy process and towards one of inclusive policy development. It makes equity a core component of the strategy and all its processes.
We know that people experience systems and structures differently, so it’s important to develop a strategy that not only acknowledges these differences, but actively addresses them through systemic solutions that are based on equity.
The CRO doesn’t have to look very far for a place to start. The City’s own Equity, Diversity & Human Rights Division is an important resource to support a focused and effective equity analysis. Other readily available resources are existing resident advisory committees at the City, including the Seniors Forum, the TO Prosperity Lived Experience Advisory Group, Tenants First as well as the Toronto Strong Neighbourhood Resident Advisory Group, and the Toronto Youth Cabinet. And it shouldn’t stop there. Thousands of people gather in and across neighbourhoods and communities, and have perspectives and expertise that can strengthen the strategy.
The CRO should reimagine how the City can work with these groups and community leaders. Supporting people with lived experience of poverty to take leadership roles within the City and in their communities means that mechanisms and resources will be required to create stronger communication and points of engagement with each other and how they connect back to the communities they are intended to represent.
It means that the CRO must challenge the way the City sees people on low incomes as well as historically marginalized communities. He will need to create a process that sees people as having a right to be at the decision-making table, beyond their ability to share their experiences of hardship and stresses.
The Chief Resilience Officer may have a daunting two years ahead of him as he works on a resilience strategy for the City of Toronto. But if he plays his cards right and includes a people-centred process based on equity in his work, he can enable space for people to join him in developing a resilience strategy that works for everyone in the city.
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