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Toronto commits to Resilient Cities program

Don Wall
Toronto commits to Resilient Cities program

The City of Toronto has taken a major step into the age of resilience, choosing a workshop held in December attended by some 100 community stakeholders to launch its participation in the international 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) program.

The program is dedicated to boosting urban resilience to climate change shocks in 100 cities around the world, its website explains. Through the network, Toronto gains access to tools, funding, resources and technical expertise — including support to hire a Chief Resilience Officer (CRO).

"I am committed to improving how this city functions for the benefit of all who live, work and invest here," said Toronto Mayor John Tory, speaking at the workshop held at Toronto’s Allstream Centre. "An important part of that involves taking a hard look at stresses for our city, such as housing and transit, and unplanned events, such as flooding and ice storms. We need to find innovative ways to address them so Toronto can continue to be one of the most livable and competitive cities in the world."

To earn recognition in the 100RC program, an initiative founded by the Rockefeller Foundation, both city manager Peter Wallace and the mayor were interviewed to establish their commitment to its goals and city staff had to submit documentation indicating Toronto had already taken significant strides towards a resilience strategy.

As part of the process, Toronto has identified two environmental "shocks" to focus on stemming from climate change that could severely damage city operations and three "stresses" or areas of vulnerability that could exacerbate the effects of the climate shocks.

Toronto’s manager of policy and research in the environment and energy division, Mark Bekkering, explained that city staff, instructed by council, have been addressing how the city might be affected by climate change and have been preparing various reports and strategies since 2007, years before the term resilience came into common parlance.

In 2012, as part of a risk-assessment approach piloted by the transportation services division, 270 assets and services were examined, with a focus on how they might be affected by extreme heat and a deluge of rain. Those have become the two shocks the city has decided to focus on. That same year, the city started to talk about resilience instead of climate adaptation.

Then came 2013.

"That year we had two major storms that kind of proved our forecasting," Bekkering said. "In July 2013 a huge amount of rain fell that was almost what we forecast, and then came the ice storm in December. To quote my boss, ‘we don’t let a crisis go to waste,’ and we took full advantage to really ramp up our efforts."

By 2013 100RC had been founded and the city was taking further steps to develop resilience policy. As part of Toronto’s collaboration with 100RC, it has identified three stresses — social inequality, the city’s infrastructure deficit and growing gridlock.

City council authorized the city’s participation in the 100RC initiative in December and authorized staff to hire a CRO, who will be charged with continuing to meet with stakeholders and resilience experts and helping the city draft a comprehensive resilience strategy.That’s not to say the city has not already been using resilience principles in its infrastructure projects and other green building practices, said Bekkering.

Examples he cited included traffic lights installed with fans so they continue to work during extreme heat, water-flow planning for the Port Lands, wind resistance incorporated into the roof design for the Leslie Street streetcar barn — built not far from Lake Ontario — and standards for green roofs in new developments that also reflect the potential for high winds.

Resilience principles can also come into play as the city decides on spending priorities, for example, whether to completely flood-proof the Don Valley Parkway (DVP), Bekkering said.

Full flood-proofing would be extremely expensive, he said. So the city would take a risk-assessment approach, evaluating the impacts of a flood.

"If it does happen it is only for a short period of time," he said. "So the thinking is, instead of flood-proofing the whole roadway, let’s acknowledge that it can happen and design it so that if it does happen, the water runs off as quickly as possible and the amount of damage that does result from that flood is minimal.

"And then we have to tell people, the DVP is flooded for the day and make do."

Overall, resilience is just good business, Bekkering said.

"If you are going to spend X millions of dollars building a new road or putting in a new sewer pipe or new subway line, you obviously want to make sure that investment is going to survive with these kinds of shocks that we are forecasting, because it is a heck of a lot more expensive to repair and replace them years from now than it is to find a little bit of extra money and design it for that right now."

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