New Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change created to address world’s most pressing issues

Image shows a hand holding a pine cone against a lush backdrop of greenery

Environmental change and urbanization represent two of the most critical challenges facing people and the planet. The world’s awareness of the need to develop sustainable solutions is vividly illustrated by the massive global Climate Day of Action protests that took place in September 2019 ahead of the United Nations Climate Action Summit. The climate action saw youth take to the streets to raise their concerns about environmental degradation, the injustices facing humanity, and the uncertainty of their future.

Universities are uniquely positioned to advance knowledge of and solutions to the issues posed by the climate crisis, degradation of nature and the rapid growth of cities. In response, York University is taking a leadership role to advance teaching and learning, research and scholarship, and multisectoral engagement in environmental and urban realms by bringing together the expertise housed in the Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) and the Geography program in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies to create a new Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change.

Envisioned to be an international leader in critical and innovative urban, environmental and geographical knowledges and skills, the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change will focus on advancing sustainability and justice. In 2019, both the Board of Governors and the Senate of York University approved the proposal for the new faculty, which will formally come into existence on Sept. 1, 2020 with new curricular offerings planned for Sept. 1, 2021.

Rhonda L. Lenton

“Students today are simultaneously faced with a competitive and dynamic global knowledge economy and a series of existential social and environmental challenges. The Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change combines the historical excellence of our environmental studies and geography programs with a renewed commitment to innovative teaching, scholarship and experiential learning. This interdisciplinary and collaborative approach will help society tackle its most complex challenges while training the leaders who will put solutions into practice,” said President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton.

Current and future students will have unprecedented opportunities to explore and learn from global thought leaders in geography, urban and environmental studies within a new faculty that fosters interdisciplinary approaches spanning and connecting biophysical sciences, social sciences, and the arts

Alice Hovorka

“The Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change will champion interdisciplinarity through curricular programs and scholarship,” said its inaugural Dean Alice Hovorka. “The new faculty will draw together scholars from geography and environmental studies as well as from across York University, building on existing synergies and encouraging collaboration in teaching, research and engagement activities.”

Field-based and experiential learning opportunities will further enhance students’ understanding of biophysical processes and social issues. Undergraduate students will have opportunities to pursue majors and minors in new programs that include bachelor’s degrees in global geography, urban studies, environmental science, sustainable environmental management, and environmental arts and justice. Masters and PhD programs in Geography and Environmental Studies will offer advanced study and application in these topical areas. Programs will feature hands-on, community-engaged learning locally, for example at York’s Maloca Garden and woodlot sites, regionally through field courses at Bruce Peninsula and within the Greater Toronto Area, and internationally at the York University Las Nubes EcoCampus in Costa Rica. Programs will also highlight work- and research-based placements connecting students with non-governmental organizations, industry, and government partner to help guide their career paths.

Demand for career professionals in environmental and urban realms has outpaced that of the rest of the workforce. Governments around the world are now placing an emphasis on regulation and public policies focused on sustainability and smart cities, requiring that organizations rethink their practices. New positions for environmental, urban planning and sustainability experts are needed, and the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change will be uniquely positioned to meet this increased global demand for trained professionals. According to a 2018 Eco Canada Job Posting Trends Report, anticipated job growth leading into 2025 will be seen in careers in natural resource management (15 per cent increase), waste management (15 per cent increase), urban planning and development (13 per cent increase), energy management (12 per cent increase) and environmental health & safety and water quality (seven per cent increase).

Some of the potential career positions available to the inaugural graduating class of 2025 include chief sustainability officers, regulators and analysts; energy entrepreneurs, auditors and consultants; environmental lawyers, advocates and diversity educators; environmental scientists, geoscientists, technicians and specialists; and, urban planners, social service administrators and infrastructure directors.

To learn more, visit