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Togetherness: As the weather gets wildly worse, ensure your survival by learning to love your neighbour

St James Town steering committee
St James Town local "Lighthouse Project" Steering Committee. Toronto, ON

Delighted to share some Toronto West End insights  about our extreme weather resilience hub project. Our Lighthouse Project is piloting how to create inclusive, community-driven extreme weather preparation hubs in Toronto, Hamilton & Brampton.

This excerpt is from Katrina Onstad's “Togetherness: As the weather gets wildly worse, ensure your survival by learning to love your neighbour” (Toronto West End Phoenix, November 2018, www.westendphoenix.com/november-2018-toronto-of-the-future)

Toronto is particularly susceptible to extreme weather disasters simply because it’s booming: the more concrete the city, the hotter the city. The urban heat-island effect is caused by tightly packed buildings and paved surfaces boxing in the heat. And when the rain comes, the lack of green spaces and growing number of impermeable surfaces mean there’s nowhere for water to go but into our ancient, overloaded pipes.

In the field of disaster research, the consensus is that survival in the age of extreme weather crises depends as much on social infrastructure as on physical infrastructure. The buzzword in these corridors is “resilience”: the ability of a community to respond to a crisis and recover well in the aftermath (Toronto now has a Chief Resiliency Officer). And the most resilient neighbourhoods are those where people are socially connected. Isolation, loneliness and poverty make people vulnerable to the worst ravages of crises. Knowing each other is a kind of protective armour in disaster times.

homework club
Emergency preparedness & backpack kit list draw. St James Town "Lighthouse Project" Homework club.  Delivered in partnership with Community Matters at Rose Avenue Public School with the participation of 50 children, 2 mothers, and 4 staff. Toronto, ON

If you’re poor, are you doomed? In fact, affluence isn’t the sole measure of resilience. In July 1995, a cruel heat wave gripped Chicago, killing 739 people. Deaths did fall largely along the same inequitable fault lines that carve up that segregated city: rich-poor; black-white. But researchers also discovered something surprising about who did and didn’t survive. Two side-by-side neighbourhoods, both low-income and largely African-American, had very different outcomes. Englewood suffered 33 deaths per hundred thousand residents, but in next-door Auburn Gresham, the death rate was only three per hundred thousand, reported sociologist Eric Klinenberg. During this five-day-long calamity, where temperatures reached 41 degrees, Auburn Gresham was a safer place to be than some of Chicago’s swankiest North Side enclaves. The reasons, writes Klinenberg in The New Yorker, are primarily social. For three decades, Englewood had been gutted economically. Many residents had fled, and stores and homes stood empty. Social connections had shattered. But in Auburn Gresham, over the same time period, the population had remained constant, and the neighbourhood was vibrant if not wealthy. Writes Klinenberg: “Residents walked to diners and grocery stores. They knew their neighbours. They participated in block clubs and church groups.” A liveable neighbourhood facilitates social interaction – and vice versa. When the heat came, people in Auburn Gresham checked in with each other, and survived.

Rita Bijons is a cofounder of CREW [which stands for Community Resilience to Extreme Weather, a Faith & the Common Good project partner] and also heads Green 13, a citizen action group fighting climate change in the former Ward 13, around Bloor West Village… During a neighbourhood blackout a couple of years ago, the temperature precipitously dropped overnight. At 4 a.m., Bijons woke with thoughts of an elderly neighbour who was living alone down the street. Bijons suspected her neighbour would be downstairs in her La-Z-Boy, unable to get upstairs for more blankets due to her arthritis. Bijons went over, to her neighbour’s delight, and got her blankets and a hot drink. “Don’t we want to live in a community that cares, a place where we know one another and respect each other’s privacy but lend a hand when it’s needed?” said Bijons.

To read the full article: www.westendphoenix.com/november-2018-toronto-of-the-future


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