Two coastlines, astounding mountain ranges, interior plains and Great Lakes: the geography of the world’s second-largest country by area varies as much as its resilience challenges. Canada’s four largest cities – Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary – have all recently released bold, citywide Resilience Strategies with the goal of addressing these shocks and stresses head on, and of building a strong future for their respective communities. Collaborating as “Team Canada,” the four cities, collectively home to over a third of Canada’s population, have also worked in tandem to highlight common challenges and advocate for resilience on a national scale.
Most Canadians live in cities situated close to the shared border with the United States, on just 20% of the nation’s landmass. That population is quickly growing, with a distinctly Canadian approach to diversity, culture, languages, and industry – and the ripple effects of rapid growth are felt all around. Urban challenges in Canada do not capture international headlines like a major natural disaster or water shortage might. Yet Canadians have experienced devastating shocks (e.g. wildfires, ice storms and flooding due to extreme weather, terrorist attacks) and face taxing daily stresses (e.g. lack of social cohesion, inequities, aging infrastructure). Sharing best practices, the Team Canada cities have collaborated on developing a resilience lens to public health, immigration, social resilience, and adaptation to climate change within the Canadian context.
In urban areas, issues of equity and inclusion have risen to the forefront. All four members of Team Canada have called this out in their resilience efforts, most notable being their emphasis on bringing indigenous communities directly into the resilience-building process. While the country as a whole is facing a reckoning on indigenous relations and representation, the work of the Strategies has served to help bring that from discussion to action. The development of Resilient Calgary helped to change the way the city approaches equity and inclusivity, for example. Instead of asking “how do we get the public to trust us?”, the process changed Calgary’s mindset to approach stakeholders with the question, “how do we begin to trust the expertise and experiences that equity-seeking groups bring to decision-making and leadership tables?” This alternate approach surfaced a series of inspired action items, including diversifying representation on boards, creating open spaces for inclusive conversations, and developing a social procurement policy, to name just a few.
Along those lines, each city’s resilience work additionally seeks to tackle the growing disconnect between Canadian residents and their cities – between the people and their government, but also between different groups of people. Montréal’s Resilient City Strategy includes an important focus on social capital; central to Toronto’s First Resilience Strategy was a deliberate and calculated effort to engage stakeholders not usually involved in citymaking, and the results can be seen in an emphasis on neighborhood resilience and new approaches to a decades-old policymaking process.
Physically, the infrastructure in cities across Canada is aging – from roads to bridges to building stock. Rapid growth has demanded new investments in services for urban residents, though this has sometimes come at the expense of long-term, sustainable investments in infrastructure. The challenge is largely invisible for now: the cities don’t outwardly appear to be crumbling in any way. Yet that will not remain the case over the next 10-20 years and city budgets need to take stock. One of Resilient Vancouver’s three resilience priorities entirely centers around optimizing buildings to be safe and adaptive, and fostering regional collaboration to fortify lifeline infrastructure and supply chains. A flagship action in Toronto has rejuvenated political will for a Tower Renewal Program, whose focus on deep retrofits will make the city’s high-rise residential buildings safer and energy-efficient. Both Toronto and Calgary have plans to apply a resilience lens to city infrastructure projects to ensure they are multi-use, co-created, and resilience-value based (including purposeful consideration of vulnerable populations).
The groundbreaking work by Team Canada has helped demonstrate that a resilience lens is applicable and important to Canadians. The cohort has benefitted from the experiences of their peers, influenced each other’s resilience priorities and initiatives, and leveraged their collaboration into a national dialogue. Their unified message and framework of resilience presents an actionable model for other Canadian cities – and the federal government – to pursue. Although changes in local political priorities have slowed progress in some areas in the past, Team Canada’s collaboration across municipal and provincial boundaries provides a clear guide on how to transcend politics and get the work done. The cities have also pinpointed entry points for philanthropic partners, a sector which has not traditionally held an important role in citymaking work in Canada.
Canada represents an important part of the global resilience movement and Team Canada will continue to contribute to and learn from their connections with Chief Resilience Officers across the 100RC Network. Now that all four Canadian member cities have completed the challenge of creating a comprehensive Resilience Strategy, the even harder work of implementation begins. All members of Team Canada have committed to further collaboration as they move into the next era of resilience practice – and they have committed to sharing with other Canadian cities the invaluable knowledge and expertise gained from being a part of the 100RC Network. In this way, we see the resilience movement being embedded across Canada from the grassroots, and up. Elected officials should take note – Team Canada cities have the knowledge and the will to improve resilience to both expected and unexpected challenges, across the country. What’s needed is support at all levels of government to invest in resilience, spread the word, and begin to make a change for the better. Looking ahead, the dual spirit of leadership and collaboration will prove essential components for a resilient True North.