The Neighbour Hub: community resilience

Nestled between the ocean and the mountains on Canada’s west coast, beautiful Vancouver sits on the meeting point of two tectonic plates, which means we face a one in five chance of experiencing a serious crustal or megathrust earthquake in the next 50 years (Wagstaffe, 2016).

Our team of five set out to explore themes of resilience, natural disaster preparedness, and community building. We defined resilience as a population’s ability to develop regenerative solutions to challenges, being both structurally adaptable and socially responsive (Nirupama, Popper & Quirke, 2015). Through the DESIS community we hosted a Resilience walk. This earthquake (workshop) would take place outdoors, rain or shine. During the walk, we came together to share stories as we walked along the liquefaction zone of Surrounding neighbourhood of Emily Carr. We discussed the potential shocks that Vancouver could experience and had participants question what our real survival tools will be post natural disaster.

Each place that we visited along our walk held significance to us as members of the Emily Carr University Community. As we discussed the implications of each space, we framed the conversation it in two different scenarios: the present and the future.

We also set up a secret location check point at our neighbourhood Disaster Support Hub, one of 25 community centres designated by the City of Vancouver be the site of information and resource-sharing during an emergency. Here, participants engaged with maps of Disaster Support Hubs in their own neighbourhood and outlined the people they would want to contact if there was an emergency.

Participants composed messages to friends, family and neighbours that explained their newly developed plan and outlined where they could be found if an earthquake did shake the coast. They asked their friends and family to respond with their own plan and forward the conversation onto others. This simple message helped us to better understand people’s perceptions of emergencies and what preparation means to them. Through DESIS, we were able to start a dialogue about the diverse definition of resilience. These responses are meant to help facilitate the next steps in our project.

Follow up: This design process has led to the design of NeighbourHubs, a disaster backup system that provides essential resources like drinking water, light, power, and radio communications in green spaces across the city. This central organizing unit could inspire residents to collect rainwater and monitor water levels, peddle on the bikes for exercise while generating localized power, interact with neighbours, and form disaster plans with others. The NeighbourHub is a model for how to facilitate conversations around social connections, civic engagement, and preparedness for citizens to overcome diverse threats such as social isolation, climate change, drought, and earthquakes, that affect us today and tomorrow.

DESIS