York team wins TD Go Green Challenge

Above: From left, York students Karen Petkau, Ian Malczewski and Ellen Field, winners of the Go Green Challenge

A team of students from York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies has won a $25,000 prize from TD Canada Trust’s Friends of the Environment Foundation for their idea of turning Toronto’s community centres into models of sustainability.

The three-member team of Ellen Field, Ian Malczewski and Karen Petkau will share half of the prize for their winning entry in the Go Green Challenge, titled “Greening Urban Community Centres”. York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies will receive the other half of the cash prize.

The York team’s entry called for a retrofitting of the city’s community centres with environmentally friendly technology, based on a series of public consultations that would also serve to raise awareness of green living practices. Their idea, which won kudos for its practicality, was inspired by Toronto’s published policies on becoming a sustainable city.

“Ours is a project which aims high, yet maintains a firm grasp on the reality it wishes to change,” said the students in a written interview. “It synthesizes elements of design, architecture, planning, education, landscaping and public involvement with the goal of affecting positive social and environmental change both in individual communities and across the city.”

"I am extremely proud of these students," said Arlene Gould, FES professor and faculty adviser on the winning submission. “They used the design charrette process I introduced to the new Design for Sustainability workshop course I have been teaching and applied the principles to an innovative community outreach initiative. The design charrette is a highly effective tool for visioning and stakeholder engagement. It works particularly well in meeting the challenges of redesigning existing buildings to meet sustainability goals."

The submission was also partly inspired by the Green Retrofit Project of the Health Nursing & Environmental Studies Building on York’s Keele campus, initiated by FES students in 2007, said Gould. “We are developing plans to reduce the carbon footprint of the HES Building on campus, while integrating user-centred design strategies into the facility to significantly enhance the teaching and learning experience. I hope this Faculty prize might help us to take the project to the next level."

The team did extensive research on the city’s existing policies on sustainable practices. Taking its cue from one report that shows 60 per cent of greenhouse gas omissions are generated through the heating and cooling of buildings, the team looked at community centres as a starting point for the redesign process because of their central importance as social spaces. By making each community centre a model of sustainability, the city would not only save money and energy, but help spread the word in the community about green living.

Using the model of a design charrette – a public consultation process that draws stakeholders together to find optimum solutions based on expert advice and community input – the team proposed refitting existing community centres instead of building new ones. The list of retrofit ideas included energy-saving technology such as LED lighting, green roofs, living walls, composting toilets, increased insulation, radiant floor heating, deep lake water cooling systems, geothermal heating, Energuide appliances and rainwater collection systems.

The project envisions each community centre becoming an environmental information hub for the surrounding community, providing people with tips on environmentally friendly products, foods, water conservation measures and energy-saving techniques for the home. “Environmental education must become an integral part of the very world we live in,” said the team members.

The team has already passed its award-winning idea along to the Regional Municipality of York and is planning to meet with a leading Toronto-based architecture firm and city representatives to discuss the idea.