Building a resilient city Resilience more than a buzzword in calgary

By Janice Harvie

City of Calgary

Beyond shocks and stresses

Planning for the future can be an exciting yet uneasy guessing game. Across Calgary, families wonder daily where to invest their time and money to maximize opportunity when it knocks, preserve what is valued most, and survive hard times with the shortest of setbacks.

Just like planning at home, The City of Calgary is responsible for seeing as far into the future as possible to guide today’s decisions and value-creating investments.

Creating and sustaining a vibrant, healthy, safe and caring community isn’t just about today’s programs and services. It’s also about serving generations in the future.

How should The City plan for a future that some believe will include self-driving cars and flying intra-city public transit?

What is the future we want to create? What are the right opportunities to create that future?

One clear opportunity the City is capitalizing on is the science of resilience and the 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) – pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation. From 1,000 applicants around the world, Calgary was officially named a 100RC member in May 2016.

The 100RC project was born from the Rockefeller Foundation’s studies of the effect of climate change on urban centres. They quickly saw the interplay of many factors that help or hinder a city’s ability to plan for or react to changing environmental conditions. So the work expanded to include other urban threats like gun violence, air pollution, aging infrastructure and traffic congestion.

In June 2013, Calgary was inundated by the Bow and Elbow Rivers flooding.


  • Acute shocks are sharp, sudden events that threaten or damage a city like the 2013 flood, or 2014 ‘Snowtember’ that damaged 50% of the city’s tree canopy.
  • Chronic stresses weaken the fabric of a city over time with on-going or cyclical events such as lack of affordable housing, unemployment, diversity and inclusion stresses or the opiod overdose epidemic we currently face.

The Resilience Challenge

Not every city experiences the same issues or faces the same threats. But resilience – the ability to address 21st century chronic stresses, and to plan for and rise again after acute shocks – is a universal key.

“Resilience is based on sustainability. We won’t get through catastrophic events if we don’t already have a sustainable community,” said Brad Stevens, Deputy City Manager and Chief Resilience Officer for The City of Calgary. “How do we do it? That’s the Resilience Challenge.”

While the ability to bounce back fast from a natural disaster is a highly desirable outcome of a resilient city, the 100RC program encourages a more holistic view. It’s impossible to know exactly what the future will bring. Only hindsight can determine a specific scenario that derails progress.

Brad Stevens, Christine Arthurs

“Resilience is about the capacity of institutions, individuals, systems and businesses not just to survive but also to adapt and thrive in the face of events and issues that really destabilize cities,” said Katya Sienkiewicz, Associate Director, City and Practice Management, 100RC.

The 100RC program provides a framework to ensure the resilience conversation is approached as a broad community. Said Christine Arthurs, Director of Resilience & Infrastructure for The City: “We’re involving cross-functional City teams and administrators, external stakeholders, community partners, and the learnings of other 100RC network cities.”

Structure, guidance, free access to global service partners and funding are provided by 100RC to each member city.

September 2014 snow event devastated Calgary's urban forest.


  • 100 Resilient Cities provides a framework and global network to address significant and shared urban issues.
  • In its 100RC application Calgary’s Resilience Challenge was “…to insulate its economy from shocks caused by fluctuating oil prices as it develops more robust responses to natural disasters.”
  • Athens is looking at the immigration crisis while Rotterdam is innovating green solutions to sewage infrastructure and storm water overflow.
  • Municipalities are consistently pushed to do more with less --to appropriately serve a growing, aging, astute population with easy access to information. There is a changing expectation of the services a government can offer.
  • “We have to figure out new management of resources, new partnerships and investors to leverage, new relationships with other orders of government. And then you add a natural disaster or a Fentanyl crisis on top. There are really complex challenges to making great community,” says Christine Arthurs, Director of Resilience & Infrastructure.

A 100RC grant allowed for the creation of Calgary’s Chief Resilience Office, including key staff. For the initial discovery process, 100RC provided a strategy partner and City staff volunteered their time to facilitate a day-long agenda-setting workshop. ‘ResilientYYC,’ as the initiative is known locally, has just published its first report on the workday findings.

“At the agenda-setting workshop, hundreds of community perspectives provided input to begin to identify community, environment and economic priorities for a resilient Calgary,” said Stevens. From this work, a resilience strategy will be developed for City Council’s approval.

Activity at the agenda-setting workshop

The multi-year process is not simply to create one new program or initiative, or even a single resilience authority, but represents a cultural shift to how The City as a municipal organization, and the Calgary area, steward toward the future.

“The measure of success will be that the resilience lens will be an additional tool we use in decision making and triple bottom-line analysis,” said Stevens.

“I’m very, very proud of the way in which this organization and our city responds to adversity. Resilience is a new way of thinking about our common future. We need to use the same skills and abilities to address the economic downturn, and other issues, as we did the flood.” Jeff Fielding, City Manager

The ResilientYYC strategy supports and aligns existing initiatives while strategically developing the right new ones. “With a common approach and processes we will be thinking, planning, budgeting and even executing through the resilience lens,” said Arthurs. “One of the many things we learned from the 2013 flooding was how interdependent we all are. We have to capture what worked well there and improve on it.”

There are already 74 references to resiliency in the City business Action Plan. “That’s the cool part. There’s lots of things happening. Our job is to make sure collaboration opportunities and interdependencies are capitalized on so we are efficient and very intentional in our resource management,” said Stevens.


  • Emergency Preparedness Initiative of Calgary (EPIC) to help the non-profit sector identify gaps in emergency responses, support business continuity planning and seek opportunities for improvement and coordination.
  • The Triple Bottom Line is an approach the City has adopted that considers economic, social, environmental, and smart growth and mobility implications in decision-making processes.
  • Neighbour Day, started the year after the flood, acknowledges the importance of community, knowing your neighbours, counting on each other, expressing kindness and gratitude, and understanding we are connected to each other.
  • Civic Innovation YYC is a new program that allows citizens, businesses and employees to share, collaborate over and test new ideas for improving City services. Mug Club is an early morning open invitation to bring your own coffee to the Innovation Lab before work and engage in lively discussion about an article or topic.
“The 100RC process will not take away from existing work. It will amplify your other great work. This is Calgary’s unique strategy and we will help share your vision with the world,” said Katya Sienkiewicz, Associate Director, City and Practice Management, 100RC.

Calgary on the 100RC web site

Chief Resilience Officer Brad Stevens speaking at the agenda-setting workshop.

Agenda-setting workshop

One of the first milestones of the 100RC framework is a day-long agenda-setting workshop, held at Stampede Park. On March 3, 2017, facilitators from The City project led 150 participants from the City’s leadership, civic and community organizations, businesses and foundations, academic institutions and government agencies through discussions and exercises to begin to develop Calgary’s resilience strategy.

Working through a series of topical modules helped identify shocks and stresses, as well as inter-dependencies using 100RC’s City Resilience Framework dimensions: leadership and strategy, health and wellbeing, economy and society, and infrastructure and environment.

Uniquely Calgary components were brought to the proceedings that so impressed 100RC they were shared with the global network as best-practice considerations:

  • Portions of the day were streamed live (available on YouTube: His Worship Mayor Nenshi, Jeff Fielding, City Manager; Panel discussion - above)
  • A concurrent session for citizens and City staff was held in the Municipal Building’s Innovation Lab
  • Live Tweeting created interactions between the main and satellite sessions, as well as private viewers using the hashtag #ResilientYYC. Both channels received extraordinary triple-digit participation.

“The concurrent session was an incredible opportunity to demonstrate that there’s an appetite at every level to be part of making change happen and to bring more Calgary voices to the table,” said Kristofer Kelly-Frère, Innovation Lab Business Strategist.

About 30 citizens and employees participated throughout the day. Several two-minute videos summarized the satellite group’s work and were played at the main session to provide and receive near-time feedback.

The Innovation Lab is an online platform and a physical space for engagement. It is all about cultivating a new crop of thought leaders and creating a city-wide environment that stimulates great ideas that the ‘usual way of doing things’ may not achieve.

Concurrent session was held in the Innovation Lab in the Municipal Building

“At one point we just walked out of the lab and into the atrium of the Municipal Building to go and meet directly with citizens and get immediate feedback,” said Chad Oberg, Business Technology Analyst for the lab. “It was incredibly transparent and immediate, and showed that every one of the conversations around resilience can matter and be heard.”

The creative satellite group also wrote letters of hope for the Chief Resilience Officer, to represent and serve as a reminder of the vision, passion, trust, confidence and unique resilience of Calgary.

They were sealed in an envelope marked ‘open in time of need.’


Four Canadian cities, Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, are members of the 100 Resilient Cities global framework.

“We share some similarities so it’s extremely valuable to share knowledge. And we will work together to advocate for this holistic description of resilient communities and elevate resiliency work to the provincial and national level,” said Arthurs.

It’s also important to 100RC that member cities share successes and learning so the global network can benefit. Sienkiewicz says the network is already looking to Calgary for guidance, leadership and our unique ability to integrate different populations in meaningful and specific ways.

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