March 24, 2020

Building Community Resilience: Geoff Cape

Geoff Cape, Founder


In a matter of mere days, and in some cases hours, we have experienced unprecedented disruption in how live, play, work and connect with each other.


Geoff Cape,
Founder and CEO of Evergreen and one of the founding partners of Future Cities Canada

In a matter of mere days, and in some cases hours, we have experienced unprecedented disruption in how we live, play, work and connect with each other.

It has been challenging for everyone to see how a global pandemic can sweep across borders and hit home right here in Canada with tremendous effects on the every day lives of individual residents. During these extraordinary moments, the most pressing issues that cities and communities face – affordable housing, unemployment, mental health, access to nature to name a few – are intensified.

This kind of disruption signals a realization of our interconnectedness: person-to-person; person-to-place and person-to-planet. We each have a role to play in how our city and natural ecosystems respond to disruption. Across the globe, we are each being asked to take extraordinary actions for community benefit. This may be one the greatest tests in how we succeed in moving forwards collectively.

Testing how we connect with one another

The now familiar concepts of social distancing and self-isolation have given way to a much more powerful approach – social solidarity.

I am inspired by the helpers, the extraordinary actions that have rapidly risen to the surface: neighbours supporting neighbours; cities supporting its most vulnerable (the frontline healthcare workers, hourly workers, the elderly, the homeless); and residents seeking new ways to connect with one another when we must be physically separated.

It’s far from business as usual. Like many of you, I am working remotely taking full advantage of electronic means to stay in touch with others. For organizations of all sizes, from charities to the private sector, this period of time will drastically change the way in which we gather, share information and navigate this new space. Future Cities Canada founding partner Community Foundations of Canada has put together a number of online resources and workshops to help other community foundations operate during this crisis.

It is only the beginning of a new era of how we connect with each other. As we adjust to a new more virtual reality, and then re-adjust afterwards, we will need to continue to ask ourselves, how can we better connect to improve our quality of life — both individually and collectively.

Innovation to build urban resilience

Disruption provides opportunity. Already we are seeing innovation in a moment of crisis. Distilleries have converted production to create hand sanitizers, Calgary hotels giving accommodation to homeless and vulnerable, car manufacturers are re-tooling to build medical equipment.

When a global solution is required, the Canadian tech community rises to tackle the outbreak with a growing list of initiatives – among them, platforms to spread the right information more quickly, companies increasing production of life-saving ventilators and software that create clinical decision support tools to be used by healthcare. No doubt that we will continue to see data and technology advance solutions to some of the pressing issues this pandemic presents.

Community is paramount

City life is deeply rooted in shared public space.

The efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 has struck a very personal note as we have suspended the public programs at Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto. It has been nothing short of devastating. When I founded Evergreen 30 years ago, it was with the bold ambitions of delivering action-based environmental programs and improving public spaces for the benefit of all. Outside of flooding, we have never had to close in our 10-year history. Our programs may have changed over the years, but our commitment to community remains strong. For ten years, the Brick Works has been a shining example of the kind of community we strive to create, where visitors, food producers, farmers, and makers can come together and be active, outdoors and engage with others – all key ingredients of a healthy city.

When our weekly Farmers Market was suspended to slow the spread of COVID-19, we knew we needed to find new ways to connect and help our local food system stay strong. Farmers Market vendors came together to organize their own small pop-up markets and Evergreen launched a new ‘Farm in a Box,’ a to-go version of the Farmers Market filled with an assortment of local produce, cheese and bread for pick up. In these times of change and uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to take care of and support one another.

I know we – and the world – will come out of this on the other side, stronger than before.

We are being tested.

Even in isolation, we are truly in this together.

Finding this resource useful?

We’ve got hundreds more toolkits, videos, podcasts and reports available for free. Simply register now and you’ll get full access to our library of world class city building resources.