Creative Community and Disaster Resilience

Naomi Boyd, reporting for the DESIS lab, June 24 & 25, 2019

This two-day lab co-sponsored by the City of Vancouver, 312 Main and the City of Melbourne’s REFUGE project focused on ‘Creative Approaches to Disaster Resilience,’ aiming to launch a dialogue surrounding community-based resilience tactics in the face of a changing climate and the impending possibility of natural disaster in Vancouver. 

This Creative Lab brought together professionals from a range of fields, including a seismologist, an architect, a playwright and creative director, and a multitude of people working in the public sector. Those from Resilient Vancouver were the driving forces behind the two-day marathon of learning. The hosts were the lovely folks at 312 Main—a symbol in and of itself towards reclamation of colonized spaces, of steps down a path towards more resilient communities.

The majority of both days consisted of presentations and panels, largely guided along by two visitors from Melbourne, Jen Rae and Maree Grenfell, two of the creative minds behind ‘Refuge,’ “a series of compelling events where art meets emergency, preparing the community for climate crisis” (Arts House, Rae is the co-founder of Fair Share Fare ( and artist-researcher in the field of contemporary environmental art, while Grenfell was representing Resilient Melbourne, who are participating in the 100 Resilient Cities project alongside Vancouver. We also had the privilege of hearing from a number of Indigenous knowledge-holders, about their experience with climate resiliency through the lens of Indigenous Science and the ways in which their perspectives can and should be embedded into the greater conversation moving forward.

“What do you know, that you don’t know you know, that we all might need to know in a disaster?” one conversation began, eager to draw out answers from both left and right brainers in the room. In other words, what is your untapped ‘survival skill’ that may have been overlooked in the past. Our list grew to include those such as storytelling, deer-skinning, infection control, and playing the ukulele. Reassessing past assumptions was one of the main focuses going into the first day, highlighting many skills that may speak to the more intangible factors of a disaster. It was beneficial as well moving to address prejudices that may limit one’s scope of care and attention.

It was promising to simply see this collection of people coming together in a physical space, communicating face to face and beginning to understand each other’s perspective on the issues at hand, whether that be one’s personal or professional opinion. To me, as a soon-to-be-third-year design student, many of the activities we engaged in were familiar and comfortable, whether that be post-it-note brainstorming, word clouds or ‘creative’ ideation. However, it was evident that to many in the room this was challenging their threshold of comfort, pushing them into new territory in terms of what to expect from a working environment.

This lab hopefully has helped individuals to look outside their sector and consider how other disciplines and perspectives can be accessed and utilized to be most effective, particularly when dealing with issues of care in emergencies. Extending the threshold of who is involved in the conversation on the prevention and preparation side of things can no doubt add to the diversity shared by the public who may benefit from these creative interventions in the future.