Neighbourhubs are structures located in public parks in every neighbourhood, within a ten minute walk of all residences. They offer the opportunity for residents to generate their own energy and water for daily use and during disaster situations - all while being independent of the City’s existing infrastructure.
The structure appears as public art that provides light and shelter on a rainy day. Upon further inspection, instructions explain the purpose of the Neighbourhub and reveal its interactivity. The design plays on Vancouver’s strengths. Four pedal charging stations allow users to back their bike into the structure to generate power. LED lights glow to indicate how many Watts of energy are being generated by the user, and possibly the friends or neighbours racing beside them. Power is stored within batteries to charge cell phones and the embedded radio. Vancouver’s abundance of fresh, drinkable water in the form of rain, is captured in a 1500 gallon cistern and filtered to meet municipal regulations. Residents can fill their water bottles, and watch the water collection gauge move, giving them a sense of water availability.
The local community is encouraged to engage with the Neighbourhub at every step of the way. Residents will be invited to design and vote for the unique identifier on the structure closest to them. The best part is that the Neighbourhub will be used constantly, regardless of any natural disaster, enabling a sense of ownership and appreciation from community members.
Artists and organizations from all around would be invited to design images or patterns to be engraved into the rain collection catchment area of the NeighbourHub, these designs would be added to a database.
Community members would be able to request a NeighbourHub for their local park and vote on their desired public art aspect. They would be invited to a ribbon cutting.
Community members would be intrigued to engage with the structure on a daily basis to charge phones or fill water bottles. Conversations would spark between residents of different neighbourhoods about the NeighbourHub in their community.
If an earthquake were to occur the neighbourHub would stand strong as it is engineered to withstand tremors. Vancouver's Power and water mains would be disrupted and the NeighbourHub would act as a safe backup for power and water.
Friends, family and neighbours come together just as they had planned feeling resilient and capable to rebuild the community together.
Vancouver on Edge
Nestled between the ocean and the mountains on Canada’s west coast, Vancouver has been called one of the world’s most beautiful and livable cities (Forbes 2011; National Post 2011). Lucky for us, right? Well, not so fast. Our city also 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).
Under this bleak prognosis, our team of five (representing both ECUAD and UBC) set out to explore themes of resilience, natural disaster preparedness, and community building at both city and neighbourhood levels through a collaborative, human-focused design approach. This design process, evolving at the epicentre of the City of Vancouver’s discussion on shocks and stresses, has led to the birth of a new Neighbourhub. The Neighbourhub sparks local conversations around community resilience and allows individuals to take ownership of their preparedness long before we feel a rumbling below our city’s surface.
Our interdisciplinary team has approached the Neighbourhub project by identifying local assets across sectors that could inform our design. 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). In particular, we understand that Vancouver requires stronger social support networks to ensure the population’s wellbeing when other systems fail. It is anticipated that preceding a natural disaster Vancouver will be left with limited, if any, access to clean drinking water or power for what could be months (Wagstaff, 2016). It was made apparent to us that Vancouver needs a way to stock up on the resources that could be lost, and most importantly start the conversation around preparedness (Katie McPherson & Katia Tynan, Personal Communication, November 2017).
To develop our solution, we turned to experts. We have consulted over a dozen specialists and City of Vancouver staff with expertise in planning, energy production, water collection, and clean technology. Each meeting brought new ideas, questions and knowledge that enabled us to refine our design. For example, Katie McPherson, Vancouver’s Chief Resilience Officer, emphasized that each community faces unique resilience challenges; therefore, our design needs to be adaptable. We are gathering input on our structure’s technical components and hosting focus groups to gain feedback from local residents. As our iterative design process continues, we will continue to co-create resilience in Vancouver’s neighbourhoods.
Today and Tomorrow
We hope to propose potential options for implementation that fit within the City of Vancouver’s existing disaster planning framework. We hope – more purposeful than any of the physical resources that Neighbourhub provides – that this structure will prompt conversations among community members as people learn about its capacity, and start to think about individual steps they can take at the personal and neighbourhood level to plan for emergency preparedness. Neighbourhub will be a replicable model for facilitating discussions around social connection, civic engagement and preparedness for citizens to overcome diverse threats, such as social isolation and/or exclusion, climate change, drought, and earthquakes, both today and tomorrow.