Project overview: Community-led climate resilience in St James Town

Extreme heat waves are becoming more frequent and severe due to climate change, along with other impacts like escalating storms, floods, and wildfire smoke. In cities like Toronto, heat waves are intensified by pavement and tall buildings which trap heat.

Many older high-rise buildings were not designed to handle extended heat waves.

St James Town is one of the most densely-populated neighbourhoods in Canada, with 19 high-rise rental buildings. High-rise residents can experience particular challenges and risks during a heat wave, power outage, or emergency. St. James Town is also one of the most culturally diverse neighbourhoods in the world, with many newcomers and over 140 languages spoken

In May 2022, the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) and Community Resilience to Extreme Weather (CREW)  started working with local volunteers in St James Town to co-create and implement a community-led emergency response model for extreme weather events focused on heat wave preparedness. This project is built on the idea that usually the first people we turn to for help in emergency situations are our neighbours, who can play an important role in supporting each other.

Since the project launched, we have:

  • Trained and supported local volunteer leaders and high-rise residents to lead community outreach during a heat wave. Volunteers learned how neighbours can help prevent heat-related illnesses and deaths and how to prepare for many emergency events, such as a power outage during a heat wave or a storm. 
  • Held workshops with local residents and stakeholders (including community agencies, organizations and volunteers) to develop emergency preparedness and response plans.
  • Developed and shared a draft model for high-rise emergency preparedness that can be customized and scaled to other settings.  

As we move into the summer months, we are developing and implementing climate emergency preparedness measures in 4 high-rise building pilot sites in St James Town. A heat wave response protocol will be tested and adapted for each building. 

Alongside this work, we will support community members to tell their stories, and engage in knowledge-sharing activities that promote learning about community-led climate resilience.

In an emergency like an extreme heat wave, people’s health and well-being are at risk. Community members can play an important role in providing support and keeping each other safe during these emergencies.

Through this new initiative, we aim to show how impacted high-rise communities can lead climate resilience solutions and support one another through extreme weather events like heat waves. Together, we will create model heatwave protocols which can be adapted and shared with other high-rise communities around the world. 

Community-led Climate Solutions for Vertical Communities is an initiative by the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) and Community Resilience to Extreme Weather (CREW), with funding support from the Commission for Environmental Cooperation and the City of Toronto.



Lidia Ferreira, Community Resilience to Extreme Weather (CREW) 

Sarah Buchanan, Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA)