Toronto unveils city’s 1st ‘resilience strategy’ to address climate change, poverty

City officials launched Toronto’s first “resilience strategy” on Tuesday that presents a vision to help residents deal with shocks, stresses and the unexpected.

Toronto’s Chief Resilience Officer Elliott Cappell told reporters that the city is becoming “hotter, wetter, wilder,” inequality is growing in Toronto and the city needs a plan.

“Our growing risks and vulnerabilities are interconnected, as those who are most vulnerable, in many cases, are also at highest risk. This resilience strategy helps us to address these urgent and growing challenges,” Cappell said in a news release on Tuesday.

According to an executive summary, the strategy includes 10 goals and 27 actions items grouped under three focus areas: people and neighbourhoods, infrastructure, and leadership.

“It sets out a vision, goals, and actions to help Toronto survive, adapt and thrive in the face of any challenge, particularly climate change and growing inequities,” reads an executive summary of the strategy.

Toronto is the second Canadian city after Montreal to release such a strategy. Montreal released its strategy nearly a year ago.

In a news release, the city said the strategy comes as Toronto continues to endure the effects of climate change, in the form of such weather events as heat waves, ice storms, flooding and extreme cold.

At the same time, the city said residents and businesses alike face pressure from stresses such as affordability, congestion and aging infrastructure.

Strategy includes tool to determine flooding areas

The strategy notes that Toronto has been hit hard in recent years with five severe storms since 2000. It also experienced high water levels in the summer of 2017.

It includes a city-wide mapping tool to determine urban flooding areas for planning purposes.

Preparing people and neighbourhoods for climate change is a key piece of the report, including support for homeowners and renters, and improvements and retrofitting of apartments to improve resilience. Poverty reduction also plays a role, report notes.

When it comes to infrastructure, the strategy talks finding ways to mitigate extreme heat, promoting a sustainable food system, and working to make the Toronto Transit Commission safer and more reliable.

Council to apply strategy when making decisions

Coun. Jennifer McKelvie, who represents Scarborough — Rouge Park, said council will consider the strategy when it makes decisions and suggested there is no funding attached to the plan because the city doesn’t yet know the real cost of climate change, population growth and urbanization.

“I think what’s important is, going forward, every time we have an important decision to make, we’re asking the questions to our top city officials and staff: ‘How is resilience applied to this?’ And it’s something that we need to interweave into all of the decisions that we make,” she said.

“It’s not just about today and releasing the report. It’s really about our decisions that are on a day-to-day basis.”

McKelvie said she thinks the city should be applying the strategy right away.

“It’s a new strategy. It’s a new process for decision making,” she said. “And as we go forward, that’s when it’s going to become important to actually attribute those dollar values on it. What does it mean to update our infrastructure to prepare for higher flood levels and water levels in Lake Ontario, for example?”

City hopes to ‘light a spark’ with strategy

In 2016, Toronto joined a network hosted by 100 cities that have adopted resilience strategies to help the city prepare for catastrophic events and urban stresses. The network is a movement pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation.

In the past two years, Toronto’s resilience office gathered input from more than 8,000 people and 75 organizations and reviewed more than 40 existing plans at the city to develop the strategy.

“This strategy is meant to light a spark —to drive action at the city and from business, academia, non-profit organizations, and residents to build a city where everyone can thrive,” the executive summary says.

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