How Art Makes Us and Our Cities More Resilient

Posted on:

By Shawn Van Sluys

Art creates a space for thinking differently. When people encounter, participate in, and co-create art, they explore and interpret their feelings, memories, longings, and responses to their environments. Something happens in this personal exploration—something that is powerful and instinctual. Our lives are a continual succession of deep engagements with the world; these experiences can disrupt our existence, transform our sense of self, and contribute to our sense of belonging and meaningfulness. The arts play a fundamental role in mediating our life experiences, making artistic creativity central to healthy, empathic, social, and conscientious ways of living. The Cities for People movement believes this is how art contributes to the resilience of our cities, our communities, and neighbourhoods.

But art doesn’t only illustrate a desire for resilience or ways in which other aspects of society enhance resilience; it has to shift our collective consciousness towards it. This consciousness is greater than social engagement—even more than just a sense of belonging—it is an awareness of injustices, of that which doesn’t make sense to the betterment of our humanity in relation to the world and to other beings.

Musagetes, the curator of the Art and Society theme of Cities for People, works to make the arts more central and meaningful in peoples’ lives, in communities, and in cities. In 2012, Musagetes worked with Rotterdam-based artists Bik Van der Pol to create a concert series on black rocks throughout Sudbury. The project, titled Between a Rock and a Hard Place, consisted of eleven concerts over eleven hours on eleven different black rocks in and around the city. Hundreds of participants moved from site to site, creating a cultural map of the city. They celebrated young musicians and the northern landscape, and contrasted that with the sublime and complex mining infrastructure that dominates Sudbury’s identity.

One concert participant had this to say about the experience: “We were invited to that beautiful nowhere to glimpse at what has been created by and for the youth of Sudbury to act out their years in whatever ways they can come up with. I hope to embark on an adventure of rediscovery, to see this city as I would like it to be.” This is how art makes our cities more resilient.

C4P at ICLEI Canada’s Livable Cities Forum

Posted on:

Our core team is going to be in Vancouver this week at the ICLEI Canada Livable Cities Forum (Day 2 at 11:15am). We really hope we"ll get to meet at least some of you in person! You can register here.

In this session, delegates will learn about urban resilience and livability through an interactive session in which participants analyze case study experiments. Cities for People will explore how to support and scale promising innovations through collaboration, exchanges and the sharing of knowledge and learning across Canada and beyond. This session will include dialogue on opportunities to foster the reach and impact of such innovations through an individual’s own work and through connecting with Cities for People to co-create better cities.


Vanessa Timmer, Executive Director, One Earth

Tracy Casavant, Executive Director, Light House Sustainable Building Center

Mark Anto, Program Coordinator, Centre d’écologie urbaine de Montréal

Shawn Van Sluys, Executive Director, Musagetes Foundation

Janice Astbury, Co-Coordinator, Cities for People

Jayne Engle-Warnick, Co-Coordinator, Cities for People (Moderator)

Enabling City: Enhancing Creative Community Resilience

Posted on:

Many commonly think of resilience as strictly pertaining to science or emergency management. But in the era of openness and collaboration, resilience is also increasingly understood as having neighbours to count on a responsive governance framework to rely on, and spaces in which to come together during a time of need.

Whether a city is resilient or brittle is an indicator of a history of past policy - and decision-making. A thriving, resilient city is one where infrastructure, physical assets and amenities are deployed to meet the needs of all – especially vulnerable populations – and where opportunities are equally distributed in a way that does not degrade the environment.

Systems and social agents play an important role in this process. Systems include the natural environment, the physical infrastructure, the social institutions and local knowledge of a place. Agents are actors like individuals, households, private firms, and civil society organizations that shape it.

A truly comprehensive resilience strategy, then, is one that employs a collaborative approach that harnesses and supports the strengths of both.

Tweet this: A truly comprehensive #resilience strategy, is one that harnesses & supports both social agents and systems.

Most blueprints for resilience planning suggest that cities are uniquely positioned to respond to the interconnected challenges of our time. Municipalities are the level of government closest to residents, and can therefore act as mediator between local needs and national resources. The urban scale also presents inherent advantages in terms of density, connectivity and infrastructure efficiency that allow urban actors to innovate, achieve more networked governance, and centralize the use of resources. A call for “re-localization” of ecosystems and economies is therefore made in order to decrease regional dependence of imported resources and encourage a shift to more humanly manageable, place-based scales.

Locally, a fast-growing number community-driven efforts are leading this powerful transition. Examples include initiatives like Toronto’s Project Neutral and Transition Towns, the global movement that works with communities and municipalities to address the challenges of peak oil and climate change through re-localization strategies (see Volume 1.). They extend to the launch of Mosaic, a crowdfunding platform for investing in renewable energy sources; Seattle’s Food Forest, and Depave, a collaborative effort to remove unnecessary pavement from urban areas and increase the amount of land available for habitat restoration.

Combined, these initiatives represent what researchers Ron Eyerman and Andrew Jamison call ‘‘temporary public spaces”, social movements of collective creation that provide society with ideas, identities, and even ideals to collectively explore narratives of innovative adaptation.

If our identities are anchored and in part informed by the landscapes surrounding us, then it is true that a warming planet changes not only our ecosystems, but our collective stories. Many are the cultural rituals connected, for example, to the change of season; countless the predictions that are made on a daily basis in relation to the weather and other natural conditions. For communities to have a sense of control and ownership over this change, the commons become the avenue through which to pool resources and resourcefulness together, in which to build consensus and facilitate decision-making, and in which to embed participation and transparency into the everyday norms that will inform the future responses of cities.

Resilience is important in the context of advancing social innovation because it makes explicit what many know intuitively: that inequality in one neighbourhood affects the city as a whole; that poverty and concentrations of wealth make cities brittle. Community-led adaptation includes not only a process of self-management, then, but also the technical, civic, and creative support for citizens to engage with (and re-design) government processes directly.

Chiara Camponeschi is the founder of, a website that, like Cities For People, aims to creatively respond to today’s most pressing issues by harnessing community imagination as a tool of social transformation. Connect with her @Enablingcity via Twitter.

Civic urbanity & Cities for People

Posted on:

By Charles Landry

Ten themes shape the dilemmas, challenges and opportunities for the 21st century city. Each has relevance to how we live and shape our places. They provide an urban narrative I call civic urbanity that seeks to contain the explosive mix of centrifugal and centripetal forces we increasingly find in cities. It fits the spirit of the Cities for People initiative well.

Urbanity and being urbane has a proud history. It is important to rethink and recapture its best features for the 21st century. The tradition of urbanity is by origin European and it focuses both on ‘the right to the city’ and ‘responsibility for the city’.

Urbanity, as we understand it, first arose in the Italian city states, especially during the Renaissance, and it then marked the movement towards meritocracy and freeing individuals from the yoke of feudalism. The German phrase ‘Stadtluft macht frei’ (city air makes you free) encapsulates this idea. In time though the notion of urbanity degraded ending with the idea of the flâneur, someone who watches urban life go by, but uncommitted to the needs of the collective whole.

Ten interlinked concepts can reshape how we can rethink urbanity:

  1. Holistic thinking
  2. Planning and acting
  3. The shared commons
  4. Eco-consciousness
  5. Healthy urban planning
  6. Cultural literacy
  7. Inclusivity
  8. Inter-generational equity
  9. The aesthetic imperative
  10. Creative city making and an invigorated democracy.

Together they frame the modern idea of civic urbanity. This idea seeks to realign individual desires and self-interest within a collective consciousness focused as much on responsibilities for ‘us’ or ‘our joint world or city’ rather than choices that are only for ‘me’ and my more selfish needs.

Ten themes

The starting point is to think in an integrated and connected way. Only then can we discern the linkages and dependencies that help us understand the deeper dynamics of cities and how to make the most of our potential. This requires a changed mindset and is difficult to prescribe. Yet increasingly decision makers realize that silo thinking and strict departmentalism does not offer the complex solutions we need.

Next there is a demand for a reinvigorated public and shared commons. This ethos argues against our increasingly self-centred public culture. It fosters amongst other things spaces and places from parks to libraries that are free, non-commercial and public and where citizens can express themselves in creative ways as the Cities for People projects try to do. Places underpinned by this ethos can help retrofit conviviality and the habits of solidarity so helping to nurture our capacity to bond and build social capital.

All cities talk of sustainability. Every vision statement mentions combating the effect of climate change. Taking a helicopter view of cities worldwide there are many good initiatives. Yet few cities make the hard planning choices to counteract an economic dynamic, spatial configurations and physical forms that continue to make cities unsustainable. Canadian cities are trying to embed a sense of eco-consciousness. This means building in ‘cradle to cradle’ thinking and new smart technologies. This can become an economic development tool as it speeds up the move towards a clean, lean, green industrial revolution.

We know about unhealthy urban planning. Rigid ‘land use zoning’, which separates functions and gets rid of mixed uses which blend living, working, retail and entertainment. ‘Comprehensive development’ that does initiatives in one big hit often losing out on providing fine grain, diversity and variety is another.  They are joined by ‘economies of scale’ thinking with its tendency to think that only the big is efficient  and lastly the ‘inevitability of the car’ which can lead us to plan as if the car were king and people a mere nuisance.

Mixed uses are coming back forcefully as living, working and playing in the same place becomes the norm again. Seamless connectivity will be key as will walkable cities which give you time and space to experience the city and become healthy by going about your day-to-day business.

Canadian cities are melting pots and seen as a model for addressing diversity, which helps economic growth in the longer term, but absorbing differences will continue to create stresses. Cultural literacy, an understanding of others, helps us negotiate difference, understand better the sources of agreement and dissent. Seeing the world through the eyes of others gives us greater competence in navigating today’s urban world.

Being intercultural and focusing on what we share rather than what divides us will be key as will avoiding housing ghettoes and gated communities. But market pressures will continue to push cities in the wrong direction.

Magnetic cities are increasingly unequal with the divides between rich and poor growing. This creates tension, resentment and leads to unfulfilled potential and even urban rioting. Places with haves and have-nots do not harness the collective imagination and intelligence of citizens nor capture their energy and aspirations. To avoid the negative consequences clever cities will demand greater equality and inclusiveness. It makes both social and economic sense.

The demographic time bomb hangs over everything cities do. There will be pressure to isolate the ageing population into retirement zones with housing adapted to their needs. More innovative places will seek to think through city making from an inter-generational perspective and develop adaptable housing forms that can be transformed through the lifecycle.

The aesthetic imperative reminds us that the city is a 360° immersive experience and it communicates through every fibre of its being; its built structures, its natural forms, its activities and overall atmosphere. Its aesthetics engender an emotional response with psychological impacts. Thus old fashioned words like beauty and ugliness will re-enter the planning debate.

The escalating complexities cities face cannot be solved by a business as usual approach. Imagination and creativity are the pre-conditions to solve the future intractable urban problems and to create interesting opportunities. Unleashing the creativity of citizens, organizations and the city is an empowering process. It harnesses potential and is a new form of capital and a currency. This approach lies at the core of what Cities for People seeks to do.

This reminds us finally that most things have been reinvented - how we do business or how we entertain ourselves. Technology has moved in gigantic leaps. Yet our forms of representative democracy, organization and management have remained largely the same for hundreds of years. This is why civic engagement has atrophied. The future cities will need to reignite the civic spirit by exploring new ways of communicating with citizens, by rethinking the regulations and incentives regime and by empowering civil servants to give of their best.

Yet this requires a new type of administration –a creative bureaucracy. This will be radically different from the target driven, efficiency and effectiveness paradigm associated with the late 20th century and being resourceful, strategically agile, responsive and imaginative will lie at its core.

Charles Landry has written many books about cities including The Creative City: A toolkit for urban innovators and The Art of City Making. See