Better Buildings Boot Camp exemplifies experiential sustainability education

architect working on house blueprint, hardhat, pen

The Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) at York University, in partnership with Sustainable Buildings Canada, will host the Better Buildings Boot Camp (BBBC) 2023 for undergraduate and graduate students, researchers and instructors from Canadian universities from June 19 to 23, 8:30 a.m to 3:30 p.m.

The BBBC comprises five full-day workshops led by professional and academic experts which explore emergent topics in sustainability and eco-friendly design. Each day’s activities and discussions will bolster the understanding of the camp’s participants as they prepare to plan the deep energy retrofit of York’s Assiniboine Graduate Student Residence.

With its emphasis on experiential education, the camp encourages undergraduate and graduate student participants to form interdisciplinary, inter-institutional groups to network with each other, as well as the diverse groups of builders, researchers and instructors leading the daily activities. The week will begin with participants and activity leaders leveraging each other’s expertise and assembling their groups’ plans in order to end the week by presenting their ideas and providing feedback to the project building team who will renovate the 51-year-old, 19-story residence at 320 Assiniboine Rd.

By collaborating with academics and technicians, BBBC organizers expect that participants will enjoy a hands-on learning experience that dissolves the boundary between theoretical and practical education, and inspires the next generation’s best minds to endeavor for a future that is sustainable and equitable.

Aren Sammy headshot
Aren Sammy

“The Better Buildings Boot Camp is an excellent experiential education opportunity that emphasizes the collective responsibility of environmental professionals working towards change in our community,” says Aren Sammy, EUC experiential education coordinator, community partnerships and employers. “This experience takes eager-to-learn students, seasoned professionals and our own alumni to work alongside EUC, York facilities and sustainability offices to get one step closer to net zero emissions by 2049.”

To maximize the accessibility of this year’s event, all introductory, networking and consultation activities – including those with York’s Facilities team – will be hosted as webinars for participants at York and at partnering institutions.

Initially conceived as a joint effort between George Brown College, Seneca College, University of Toronto, Carleton University and Toronto Metropolitan University, the boot camp has expanded year after year adding more Canadian institutions into the partnership, with the 2023 instalment marking the first time that York has hosted the event.

“This is how we make a difference, it takes all of us to come together with our specializations to work towards one goal, a more just and sustainable future,” Sammy adds.

A summary of each day’s themes and speakers are included below, for a detailed event schedule, including breaks and mixers, click here.

  • Monday: Goals – featuring Mike Singleton, executive director of Sustainable Buildings Canada (SBC); Bettina Hoar, CEO and sustainability officer of Sage Living; Nicole Arsenault, program director, sustainability; and more
  • Tuesday: Tools – featuring Juan Sebastián Carrizo, senior building performance consultant at DIALOG; Sean Sirgi, building performance analyst at EVNA Engineering; and more
  • Wednesday: Humans – featuring Leslie Kulperger, founder and CEO of MylesAhead; Jayde Malam, founder and accessibility consultant at Beautifully Inclusive; and more
  • Thursday: Workshop – featuring Mike Layton, chief sustainability officer at York University; the York University Facilities team; the SBC consultation team; and more
  • Friday: Lessons Learned – featuring EUC alumnus David MacMillian, program manager at City of Toronto; Justin J. Podur, EUC associate dean, teaching and learning; Alice J. Hovorka, EUC dean; and more
Mike Layton
Mike Layton

During Thursday morning’s session, Layton – who joined York in March after serving for 12 years as Toronto city councillor and who continues to be an environmental champion – will share his personal knowledge with the SBC and York facilities teams and help shape the project proposals that will make the residence a net-positive development for the campus environment.

“The buildings we live, work and play in, at York University and everywhere, play an important role in achieving our sustainability objectives,” Layton says. “The BBBC workshop is a great opportunity for students, practitioners, and York staff to learn from each other and put into practice their expertise in a collaborative and practical application.”

This year’s BBBC is currently approaching 70 student registrants representing 19 different schools across Canada and 10 unique fields of study. Registration for the event will remain open until Friday, June 16 at 5 p.m. Due to limited space, interested parties are encouraged to apply as soon as possible. For more information and to sign up for BBBC 2023, click here.

EUC professor’s book pioneers psychoanalytic examination of crisis-prone capitalism

Earth marble wrapped in bandages and overheating on black backdrop

“Why is it that, despite the fact that we live in an ‘information economy,’ despite the fact that we are well aware of sweatshop labour, increasing inequalities and climate crisis,” Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change Professor Ilan Kapoor ponders, “we continue to be so invested in our global capitalist system?”

Ilan Kapoor closeup portrait
Ilan Kapoor

In his latest book, Global Libidinal Economy (Suny Press, 2023), Kapoor – along with co-authors Gavin Fridell, Chair of Global Development Studies and research professor at Saint Mary’s University; Maureen Sioh, associate professor in the Department of Geography at DePaul University; and Pieter de Vries, international development research liaison for Wageningen University and Universidad de Antioquia – supplants traditional economic wisdom and emphasizes the often overlooked role that unconscious human desire plays in driving overconsumption and – by extension – environmental and humanitarian crises.

“Conventional political economy assumes the individual as an autonomous, rational, self-interested and advantage-maximizing subject. Neoclassical economics, for example, is based on the idea of a self-regulating market that operates under the ‘invisible hand’ of supply and demand,” Kapoor explains.

Widespread though this understanding of market forces may be, however, Kapoor asserts that such a perspective is ultimately limited, failing to describe how so-called rational actors can understand the regrettable consequences of unmitigated consumption, while simultaneously participating in such destructive, and eventually self-destructive, behaviours. In order to explain this contradiction, Kapoor and his peers introduce the concept of “the ‘libidinal,’ [which] plays a critical role,” as a primary motivator of consumption, rather than a negligible, haphazard influence.

“Libidinal economy is founded on the notion of a desiring subject, who obeys the logic not of good sense, rationality and self-interest, but rather excess and irrationality,” Kapoor says. “Desire, as it is conceptualized in psychoanalytic theory, is insatiable, which is what helps explain the relentlessness of capital accumulation and profit maximization. So, it is the irrationality and excess of desire that we think can help us understand such phenomena as overconsumption, excessive waste and environmental destruction to the point of imperiling not only accumulation but life itself.

Global Libidinal Economy (2023)
Global Libidinal Economy (2023)

“My co-authors and I claim in this book that it is because late capitalism fundamentally seduces us with such things as cars, iPhones, fast food, and media spectacle … as a result of which we end up fetishizing capitalism, loving it, in spite of knowing about the many socioeconomic and environmental problems associated with it,” he adds.

As a teacher of global environmental politics and international development studies, Kapoor approaches these subjects through the lenses of psychology and critical theoretic philosophy, encouraging his students and peers to debate trends in global development in terms of race, gender, class and unconscious bias.

“I am interested in those elements of our lives that are either hidden away – what psychoanalysis calls ‘repression’ – or are in plain sight but unacknowledged – that is, ‘disavowal,’” he says. “My last three books have focused on this repressive and disavowed role played by unconscious desire in global politics and development. Our [new] book builds on that project by examining the significant part played by unconscious desire in political economy.”

Officially published on May 15, Global Libidinal Economy will make it’s ceremonial debut at Authors meet Critics as a part of the 2023 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences at York University on May 30.

Though intimately familiar to Kapoor and his co-authors, the conception of libidinal economy introduced in the book is now making waves in environmentalist and economist circles, being praised in early reviews as innovative and expansive, yet broadly accessible and concise.

To purchase a copy or see more information and reviews on Global Libidinal Economy, visit the publisher’s website.

Click here for details on the launch of Global Libidinal Economy and the Authors meet Critics event.

York’s Ecological Footprint Initiative to host national footprint, biocapacity data launch

Glass planet in the sunshine

Canada’s ecological footprint declined during COVID-19, but is it back to pre-pandemic levels? York University’s Ecological Footprint Initiative (EFI) will release data showing changes up to 2022.

What is the size of Canada’s ecological footprint, and that of the rest of the world, and how did that change during the global pandemic?

Viewers from across the University community and beyond are invited to join the online launch Thursday, April 20, from 1 to 2 p.m, when researchers at York will release the Ecological Footprint of Canada, and 200 other countries, from 1961 to 2022.

Popularized roughly 30 years ago, the term “ecological footprint” was a way of measuring humanity’s appropriation of Earth’s carrying capacity. Since then, it has evolved to include a comprehensive system of national and international accounts. These accounts provide valuable insights about humanity’s use of lands and waters. The accounts help countries and communities to engage with sustainability and to make informed decisions about the future.

In practice, ecological footprints track the area of land and water used to grow food and renewable materials, plus the area occupied by settlements and infrastructure, as well as the area of forests needed to soak up carbon emissions.

In the last few years, York has become a global hub for producing ecological footprint accounts, and for researching ways to make them even more comprehensive.

Eric Miller
Eric Miller

“Canada reports on GDP with a lag of just a few months, yet its environmental data lags by years. We filled in gaps and lags to make it easier to assess environmental performance in Canada and around the world,” says EFI Director Eric Miller, from the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change. “Time is ticking. Each year of action or inaction matters for the future of humanity. For this reason, our data reports on Ecological Footprint up to the end of 2022.”

Since the first Earth Day in 1970, humanity’s ecological footprint has been in overshoot of the planet’s capacity to sustain it. Since 1961 humanity’s footprint has tripled.

“For each country we calculate the footprint of what was produced and what was consumed. The difference comes from the footprint embodied within the goods imported to the country, and the footprint of the goods exported by the country,” says Miller.

“Canada, for example, produces more wood products than it consumes, with the difference as exports,” he adds. “We generate this data for all countries, to reveal the ecological dimensions of global supply chains and the extent to which countries effectively offload their ecological requirements onto others.”

Miller says that to continue advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals, University researchers depend on data that can be scaled nationally, as well as locally and globally – EFI provides this crucial data so that it remains timely, scalable and accessible.

This is the fifth anniversary of York producing data about ecological footprint and biocapacity, and supplying that data on an open-source basis to researchers around the world.

This year’s data will also include a more robust look at the footprint of fish harvests, including unreported catch. “In Canada, fish harvests were significantly underreported up to the point of the cod collapse. By including underreports, we can help researchers see these trends much more easily,” says Katie Kish, EFI research associate.

Mike Layton
Mike Layton

York’s new Chief Sustainability Officer Mike Layton will kick off the event, followed by updates to the 2023 accounts from Miller, along with EFI data analysts Sila Basturk Agiroglu and Peri Dworatzek.

Kish will talk about research futures and the growing international research network for the global footprint family, with a direct focus on better public-facing data and data for communities.

Mathis Wackernagel, co-founder and president of the Global Footprint Network, will discuss the state of the footprint and a look towards the future. One example he will draw on is the Kunming/Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework with 23 targets agreed upon at the 15th meeting of the Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. These targets include the ecological footprint as a measurement tool.

Learn more at News @ York.

Lakes in hot water, climate change creating a cauldron of issues

Little Wiles Lake (Bridgwater, NS)
Little Wiles Lake (Bridgwater, NS). Image courtesy of Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change Associate Professor Jennifer Korosi

As intense heatwaves grip the United Kingdom, Spain, France and Portugal, at times exceeding temperatures 40C, as well as in parts of North America and Asia, lakes around the world are feeling the heat from climate change, which is creating a cascade of ecological and environmental issues. 

Sapna Sharma
Sapna Sharma

To get a cohesive picture of how climate change is threatening lakes, Reader R. Iestyn Woolway from Bangor University in Wales; York University Faculty of Science Professor Professor Sapna Sharma; and Queen’s University Distinguished University Professor John Smol, reviewed and synthesized available studies on freshwater lakes from across the globe.

Their paper, Lakes in Hot Water: The Impacts of a Changing Climate on Aquatic Ecosystems, was published in the journal BioScience this week.

The research team found that the effects of climate change on lakes are often cumulative, and can affect any of the more than 100 million lakes in the world. Warmer water temperatures lead to changes in stratification regimes, declines in dissolved oxygen, a higher risk of cyanobacterial algal blooms, as well as a loss of habitat for native cold-water fish. It can affect not only water quality and quantity, but also cultural and recreational activities, and local economies. 

“Climate change has far-reaching social and ecological repercussions, but the impacts of climate change, combined with other environmental pressures, are often little understood and the significance of them has not been appreciated at a global level,” says Sharma. “There is still much work to be done.”

Warmer air temperatures can impact winter ice cover in the case of northern lakes. Ice loss is one of the most blatant consequences of climate warming on lakes, which can increase winter evaporation rates and water temperatures, and lead to a multitude of physical and chemical effects, including greater salinity. The global mean annual evaporation of lakes is expected to increase by 16 per cent by century’s end. In addition, lower levels of precipitation can also have a significant effect on lake levels. 

“The ecological consequences of climate change coupled with the impacts of extreme climate events are already occurring in lakes globally and will continue to do so in the future, often without warning or time to adapt,” says Woolway. “The results of these kinds of changes have been felt in lakes from Algonquin Park in Ontario to Lake Chad in Africa, the English Lake District in the U.K. to Lake Mead in the United States.”

Declines in water levels can be severe in some regions. Historically ranked as one of the largest lakes in Africa, Lake Chad, which borders Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria, has shrunk considerably because of decreases in local precipitation and discharge from its catchment, as well as increased evaporation. 

“Events like an earlier summer season can also cause mismatches in fish spawning and foraging, often with widespread ramifications across the food web. Although a ‘longer summer’ may be welcome to many cottagers and campers, such weather conditions increase the risk of algal blooms, and especially cyanobacterial blooms, which can have far-reaching ecological consequences and even make drinking water toxic,” says Smol. 

Some of the effects of climate change are creating conditions where lakes are losing oxygen needed for fish and other aquatic species. This deoxygenation can be made worse by cyanobacterial blooms.

“Algal blooms can block sunlight from reaching the deeper waters and bacterial decomposition of sedimented algae can lead to a decrease in oxygen for deep-water fish and other aquatic life,” says Woolway. “In addition, episodic storms can cause nutrients to suddenly wash into lakes and foster the development of cyanobacterial blooms.”

A decline in the availability of safe drinking water caused by harmful algal blooms is considerably worse when combined with a reduction in water quantity. In 2014, a Cyanobacteria bloom in Lake Erie shut down the water supply in Toledo, Ohio, while a massive toxic cyanobacterial bloom in Lake Taihu, China, shut down the water supply for two million people for a week in Wuxi city.

“In Ontario, reports of algal blooms have not only increased, but have been reported as late as November, something that was typically not the case in previous years,” says Sharma. “These blooms could also affect tourism and lakeside property values.”

Seven years ago, Algonquin Park banned overnight camping on remote and nutrient-poor Dickson Lake because cyanobacterial blooms caused health concerns. A sediment-based study determined that these blooms were new to the lake and no comparable events had occurred in the last century, but that’s changing.

Warmer water temperatures, algal blooms, earlier onset, and longer periods of thermal stratification, combined with lower dissolved oxygen concentrations can have important cumulative and potentially negative effects on aquatic organisms, such as fish.

“The effects of climate change also interact synergistically with multiple environmental stressors exacerbating problems with water quantity and quality, including salinization, contamination, and the spread of invasive species,” says Smol. “As humans can’t survive without water, a better understanding of how climate change affects lake function is needed along with recognition of early warning signals.”

The researchers hope that recent advances in technology, such as remote sensing and environmental DNA, combined with a move to work beyond traditional silos, will allow for a better understanding of lake responses in the future. 

For the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal of equitable access to clean water to be realized by 2030, the inclusion of diverse voices from researchers worldwide, including the Global South, and the cross-pollination of ideas across disciplines, will be essential.

Kristin Andrews

Kristin Andrews
Kristin Andrews

York Professor of philosophy Kristin Andrews writes in The Conversation about the hidden world of octopus cities and culture shows why it’s wrong to farm them

Schulich partners with UN to study how climate change impacts real estate values

skyscrapers FEATURED

Physical climate risk is fundamental and critical to all real estate investors, but according to a new report from the United Nations, in partnership with York University’s Schulich School of Business and Henley Business School in the United Kingdom, there is a lack of information and understanding about how these risks could affect property values in the long term.

The report, released by the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI), is titled “Climate Risk and Commercial Property Values: A review and analysis of the literature.”

Researchers found little information that clearly outlines the interaction between climate hazard exposure, market sentiment, and asset value and pricing. Photo by Sean Pollock on Unsplash

The research was commissioned to support real estate investors in correlating recent extreme weather events to real estate values and prices, and how risk should factor into future projections. It aimed to identify the patterns in the reduction in price of assets and changing behaviour in the real estate market due to acute and chronic climate risk.

“Climate change is becoming one of the most important structural forces and risks that long-term investors in all asset classes need to proactively consider in building resilient portfolios,” said Professor Jim Clayton, the Timothy R. Price Chair at Schulich and director of the school’s Brookfield Centre in Real Estate and Infrastructure. “Institutional real estate portfolios with exposure to cities and regions that are increasingly susceptible to climate change impacts face heightened risk. This paper provides a timely review of academic research that indicates climate risk is starting to have a more sustained impact on pricing and on investor decision-making.”

Despite the increased concern among investors of the impact of recent extreme weather events such as flooding, hurricanes, rising sea levels and wildfires, the report concluded there is an incomplete picture of the channels through which climate hazard exposure has an impact on asset value and pricing.

The research also found that, although commercial real estate investors may be increasingly aware of physical climate risk when acquiring, developing and upgrading assets, there is only modest evidence as to how commercial real estate markets have, in the past, responded to extreme events.

Overall, the researchers found little information that is available to investors and other market participants that clearly outlines the interaction between climate hazard exposure, market sentiment, and asset value and pricing. This has great implications, as the nature of physical climate risk is such that values, prices, and investment decisions will increasingly be influenced by actions of lenders, insurers, occupiers, regulators and government, and all these parties depend on good data and information flows.

The report recommends further work in the following areas:

  • improving market surveillance;
  • shaping financial and valuation modelling practices;
  • strategizing for public and private investment planning in local area resilience; and
  • researching to build the evidence base for climate risk analysis and disclosure.

The review concludes that not enough is understood about how physical climate risk is currently included in the pricing of assets and how this has impacted the real estate market. The report did find that prices in the past have often “bounced back” from falls caused by extreme events, but this may not continue to happen. Mandatory mitigation requirements from the insurance market and other governance capacities can be critical in helping to provide confidence to investors and mitigate value losses over time; however, the extent to which this protects future asset values in areas subject to climate risk is unknown.

The full report can be found here.

About the UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative

The United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) is a partnership between the UNEP and the global financial sector to mobilize private sector finance for sustainable development. The UNEP FI works with more than 400 members – banks, insurers and investors, and over 100 supporting institutions – to help create a financial sector that serves people and the planet while delivering positive impacts. By leveraging the UN’s role, the UNEP FI accelerates sustainable finance.

York University posts top scores in Times Higher Education Global Impact Ranking 2021

THE Banner for Sustainable YU

For the third year in a row, York University has been ranked highly by the Times Higher Education (THE) global Impact Ranking, which classifies universities on their work towards the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This year, York has placed 11th in Canada and 67th overall against 1,115 post-secondary institutions from 94 different countries.

Rhonda L. Lenton
Rhonda L. Lenton

“York’s strong performance in the rankings this year is a result of the extraordinary efforts of our students, faculty, course directors, staff, and alumni, whose dedication to our communities and our planet has helped us make great strides in furthering the UN SDGs,” said York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton. “We are proud of the way our community members have come together in support of the SDGs, and grateful for their passion, enthusiasm, and continued commitment to driving positive change in our local and global communities.”

The THE Impact Rankings are the only global performance tables that assess universities against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The ranking compares universities on research, stewardship, outreach and teaching across 17 categories.

York ranked in the top four per cent globally in two SDGs that closely align with the strategic focus of the University’s Academic Plan (2020), including third in Canada and 27th in the world for SDG 17 – Partnerships for the Goals, which examines a university’s stewardship of resources and its preservation of community heritage, and fifth in Canada and 24th in the world for SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities, which looks at how the University supports and collaborates with other universities in working towards the SDGs.

Lisa Philipps
Lisa Philipps

“The Impact Ranking is a strong reflection of York’s progress in advancing the University Academic Plan 2020–2025 (UAP), which challenges us to build a better future, bringing our unique capacities to bear on the most urgent issues facing the world, while deepening our collective contributions to the SDGs,” said Provost and Vice President Academic Lisa Philipps. “I am very proud of the significant contributions that have been made to advance our UAP and address complex global issues.”

Partnerships for the goals: Global hubs, partnerships and collaborations improved ranking in SDG 17

Hosting global hubs for international initiatives, sharing best practices, and partnering with the federal government to offer expertise improved York’s ranking to 27th overall in Partnerships to Achieve Goals − a major improvement over last year’s rank of 50th.

Driven by a welcoming and diverse community with a uniquely global perspective, York’s international network of partnerships helps our students and faculty make a difference across the world.

York hosts four significant global partnerships and hubs that contribute to the pursuit of the SDGs.

Charles Hopkins
Charles Hopkins

The UNESCO Chair in Reorienting Educations Towards Sustainability, held by Charles A. Hopkins, works in association with the many other entities, including the International Network of Teacher Education Institutions and the #IndigenousESD, towards achieving the Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). The Ecological Footprint Initiative, which hosts a data centre at York, focuses on researching, investigating, mapping, and explaining humanity’s ecological footprint on the planet.

Professor Steven Hoffman
Professor Steven Hoffman

The World Health Organization has recognized the work of York’s Global Strategy Lab team led by Director Steven J. Hoffman, a professor of global health, law and political science and the Dahdaleh Distinguished Chair in Global Governance & Legal Epidemiology, by designating it as the WHO Collaborating Centre on Global Governance of Antimicrobial Resistance (WHOCC). The Glendon Accelerator for Innovation and Best Practices in French Teaching will also host a new knowledge mobilization hub to meet the need for French as a second language teachers at a time when they are in short supply.

In addition to these international hubs, the Cross-Campus Capstone Classroom won the 7th Airbus Global Engineering Deans Council Diversity Award for its efforts to increase diversity and inclusion in engineering education.

Deborah McGregor
Deborah McGregor

Finally, through the leadership of Osgoode Hall Law School Associate Professor Deborah McGregor, who is cross appointed to the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Environmental Justice, the Osgoode Environmental Justice and Sustainability Clinic intervened successfully with the federal government to obtain a regional impact assessment for proposed mining and road infrastructure in Ontario’s Ring of Fire.

Sustainable cities and communities: COVID-19 research and new green buildings recognized in SDG 11

New Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certified buildings, timely COVID-19 research, projects funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and a new Charter Centre on Homelessness propelled York to 24th overall in the Sustainable Cities and Communities ranking. York University’s top ranking in this category is further proof of its commitment to make things right for our community, the planet and our future.

York’s researchers have also been helping lead the fight against COVID-19, with a pair of projects to simulate mass vaccination sites and model COVID-19 transmission.

Ali Asgary
Ali Asgary

Ali Asgary, associate professor of Disaster and Emergency Management, and Jianhong Wu, a Canada Research Chair in Industrial and Applied Mathematics, the NSERC/Sanofi Industrial Research Chair in Vaccine Mathematics, Modelling and Manufacturing and York Distinguished Research Professor in Mathematics, have together developed a simulation that models ongoing processes in a drive through vaccination clinic. The innovative approach is being used in Canada and the United States and has been listed as one of the best community models available.

Jianhong Wu
Jianhong Wu

Jude Kong, an assistant professor in Mathematics & Statistics at York, leads a team of 50 researchers from organizations across Africa and Canada to predict the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their project builds on a South African-led COVID-19 dashboard and combines modelling at York to inform and support national policymakers from across Africa manage the virus in real time.

Jude Kong
Jude Kong

Two SSHRC grants awarded to York professors will enhance the ability to preserve local heritage in communities around the world. Laura Levin, associate professor in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design, and director of Sensorium: Centre for Digital Arts & Technology, leads the “Hemispheric Encounters” partnership project to build a network of organizations across Canada, the United States, and Latin America, with the aim of sharing knowledge and strategies for positive social change. Linda Peake, professor in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies and director of the City Institute, leads “GenUrb,” a research project aiming to build a network to examine the changing relationship between gender, poverty, and inequality across the globe.

Laura Levin
Laura Levin

In working to make their own community more sustainable to live in, York Faculty of Education Professor Steven Gaetz leads a collaboration between the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and A Way Home Canada, a successful partnership to prevent youth homelessness that was recognized by the United Nations.

The Rob and Cheryl McEwen Graduate Study and Research Building, part of the internationally renowned Schulich School of Business, became LEED Gold-certified earlier this year. The new site, which opened in 2019, features a glass solar chimney that provides natural ventilation for the facility.

Linda Peake
Linda Peake

Two more buildings under construction, the School of Continuing Studies at the Keele Campus, and the first phase of York’s Markham Centre Campus, are also aiming for the LEED Gold standard. The School of Continuing Studies features a high-performance prismatic façade, composed of photovoltaic panels and glazed openings to bring natural light into the building. The photovoltaic panels will also allow the building to produce its own power. The School of Continuing Studies is scheduled to open in the fall of this year, while the Markham Centre Campus will open in Fall 2023.

Steven Gaetz
Steven Gaetz

York’s ongoing success in the THE Impact Rankings is owed entirely to its community of positive changemakers. With so many projects, initiatives, and partnerships underway, and many more in development, York University continues to expand the work that makes the world a better place to live, learn and work.

The future of cities in the wake of the pandemic: What will change? What should change?

Toronto, Canada – May 02, 2020: Toronto locals practicing social distancing waiting in line outside liquor store on a rainy day during coronavirus pandemic in Ontario, Canada.

In late spring 2020, the premier of Ontario, alongside the mayor of Toronto, lifted the first COVID-19 lockdown in this city. Stores re-opened, restaurants re-gained some business via patio dining. The warm weather spurred Torontonians, tired of being cooped up in their homes, to venture outside. In fact, they flooded the streets. But the virus was still very much alive and capable of spreading. People were aware of the need for physical distancing.

“People were panicking in downtown Toronto because they realized the sidewalks are so narrow,” says Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies Professor Douglas Young.

Researchers are trying to decipher the effect of the pandemic on inequity in urban settings

Most people living in populous cities before the pandemic had probably never considered the width of their sidewalks. “But with the new realization of a spreadable virus, there was this awakening: Why are the sidewalks so narrow? Why is there so much space given over to cars and why are pedestrians squeezed into narrow spaces?” says Young.

Douglas Young York University
Douglas Young

He also wonders if this moment will spark further reaction, post-pandemic. “Will there be a realization that too much space is devoted to cars?” says Young. “Will that start to drive policy? Will that lead to thinking about the quality of dwelling units or will we see the ‘same-old-same-old’ and keep building sky-high condos?”

The pandemic has, as we are all too aware, changed how we are living today. Many people are working from home. Real estate agents say there’s a notable interest in city dwellers wanting to live in less-crowded rural areas. Curiously, urban houses with swimming pools have shot up in value because the pandemic has crushed far-off vacation dreams.

However, Young and other York urban experts emphasize that all of this is pure speculation and, importantly, it’s not what we should be focusing on when it comes to urban issues. Instead, they say, the focus should be on inequity in cities. And to decipher the effect of the pandemic on inequity in urban settings, an understanding of density is essential.

Valerie Preston
Valerie Preston

Professor Valerie Preston in the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, defines density as “the population per unit area.” As an example of high density, she points to the intersection of Don Mills Road and Sheppard Avenue East in suburban Toronto. The southeast corner is dominated by tall condos constructed close together on a relatively small area of land.

But on the north- and southwest sides of Don Mills Road, there’s a mix of townhouses, detached homes and older apartment buildings. Smaller buildings, spaced farther apart, means lower density.

Professor Roger Keil, also in the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, points out that density is relational. “It only means something when people are involved. And people use density in different ways.”

Keil adds another important dimension to the conversation: social density. “What do people do in a particular area? An area such as the tall bank towers in downtown Toronto have high density, but only during the day, because by midnight, no one’s there,” he says.

Roger Keil York University
Roger Keil

Meanwhile, not far from the bank towers are new, tall condo buildings, squeezed closely together: CityPlace. This is a new conglomeration of condos in an area formerly occupied by factories and rail lands. This kind of social density can mean overcrowding, Keil explains. “Too much social density in built density results in overcrowding. Too many people, per square metre in, for example, an apartment unit. That’s why this topic is so urgent in this time of pandemic.”

Young, Keil and Preston all stress that overcrowding, not density, is at the heart of urban inequity, pandemic or not.

Overcrowding exists in numerous parts of the city and in ways that many would find surprising. Preston points out that women are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 than men. Why? Women tend to occupy certain high-risk occupations, such as personal support workers (PSWs). Also, in single-vehicle households occupied by a male and female couple, statistics show that the man drives the car more readily than the woman. This means that more women use public transit, which may raise a person’s risk of contracting the virus.

Preston also notes that in Toronto, essential workers are disproportionately concentrated in neighbourhoods in the northwest and in the east, where the only form of public transportation is Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) buses.

Woman wearing a pandemic mask while riding on public transit
The bus system is putting essential workers at risk, Preston explains

“The TTC is putting in express bus routes. That’s great, but they’re planning to remove bus stops along those express routes,” she explains. “Essential workers, like cashiers and PSWs, use the buses. And many of them are women. So now you have fewer buses, overcrowded buses, and the bus system is putting some of those essential workers at risk.”

The same inequity is seen in housing: While some city dwellers are able to uproot themselves and do their work on a laptop in a less dense setting, Keil points out the work-from-home population makes up only about 40 per cent of Toronto’s workers.

The other 60 per cent have to stay in the city, often working at lower paying jobs that require them to go somewhere – a supermarket, warehouse, long-term care setting. Additionally, this 60 per cent often face overcrowding in their residence.

“Where overcrowding gets compounded is in apartment buildings where you find multi-generational families living in a two-bedroom unit,” Young adds. “Aside from COVID-19, living in an overcrowded situation like that is not healthy in terms of hygiene or mental or physical health.”

What can be done? What should a post-pandemic urban re-think on inequity look like?

Preston emphasizes that the inequity in housing laid bare by the pandemic must be addressed urgently. “Renters in big cities are much more likely to live in crowded housing. That’s particularly true for low-income renters. Providing more affordable housing must be a top priority. We must also remember that the housing crisis isn’t only in cities. Indigenous peoples living in isolated areas of Canada have dreadful housing. We can’t ignore that.”

Keil says the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated inequity, but he also believes that Black Lives Matter (BLM) is playing a huge role. “Because of BLM, now we have conversations about who has the minimum wage jobs and who is in the factories where we have the outbreaks. We see the outbreaks in our cities and see they are not about culture but about structural underfunding of public health and healthcare. BLM is creating a new type of urban politics. In related work I have been doing with colleagues on the pandemic, we are calling this ‘a democratic moment’ … and we need to act on it.”

Young believes that, as bad as the pandemic has been, it has brought to light a renewed appetite to re-design cities with less of an emphasis on roads and cars. “Cities in Europe and Asia are moving forward boldly in making sidewalks wider and improving public transit. By contrast, Toronto has been incredibly timid, citing a lack of money. But COVID has shown us that when there’s a crisis, there is money. The risk is, if we don’t act on this moment, we’ll lose this opportunity.”

To learn more about Young, visit his Faculty profile page. To learn more about Keil, visit his profile page. To learn more about Preston, see her Faculty profile page.

To learn more about Research & Innovation at York, follow us at @YUResearch; watch our new animated video, which profiles current research strengths and areas of opportunity, such as Artificial Intelligence and Indigenous futurities; and see the snapshot infographic, a glimpse of the year’s successes.

Paul Fraumeni is an award-winning freelance writer, who has specialized in covering university research for more than 20 years. To learn more, visit his website.

Putting things right: Indigenous wisdom applied to sustainable water governance

A woman paddles a canoe on a freshwater lake FEATURED
A woman paddles a canoe on a freshwater lake FEATURED

York University is committed to respectful, relevant, Indigenous-formed and -led research, scholarship and related creative activity. Indigenous research paradigms are, broadly speaking, gaining momentum. But few, if any, scholars researching sustainable water governance have applied Indigenous research methods or took into consideration the untapped knowledge from Elders, language speakers and Indigenous women in this area.

Susan Chiblow (also known as Ogamauh Annag Qwe)
Susan Chiblow (also known as Ogamauh Annag Qwe)

Until now. A PhD student in the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, Susan Chiblow (also known as Ogamauh Annag Qwe) has made this vital connection.

Her recent article, titled “An Indigenous Research Methodology That Employs Anishinaabek Elders, Language Speakers and Women’s Knowledge for Sustainable Water Governance,” was published in the esteemed journal Water (2020) as part of a special issue on the topic.

Chiblow, born and raised in Garden River First Nation and appointed as an adjunct member to the graduate program in the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, has worked extensively with First Nation communities for the last 20 years. This work includes providing environmental information to the First Nation leaders in Ontario and their communities on environmental initiatives such as the waters, forestry, contaminants, energy and species at risk. Chiblow is also a frequent contributor to York University’s Indigenous Environmental Justice Project.

Her research, incorporating Indigenous worldviews, examines humanity’s relationship to water and efforts on improvement for humans, animals and the waters themselves.

Lake Lands in Northern Ontario
This research methodology is specific to the Anishinaabe territory of the Great Lakes region

Pressing need to address legacy of unethical research

Chiblow champions Indigenous research methods and hopes that more Indigenous communities and organizations develop their own research protocols, in part to combat the historical legacy of unethical research. “Researchers who are seeking to conduct research in Indigenous communities need to first educate themselves about historical unethical research,” she emphasizes.

Including Indigenous people in the research endeavour is key. “There’s a plethora of articles explaining Indigenous research methodologies, but few examine the inclusion of the knowledge from Elders, Anishinaabemowin [Ojibway language] speakers, and Indigenous women in sustainable water governance,” she explains.

Objective to explore Anishinaabek women’s N’bi water knowledge

This is exactly what she aimed to do with the Water article. “I wanted to explore Anishinaabek women’s N’bi [water] knowledge, how we can improve our relationship to N’bi, and understand Anishinaabek women’s concepts of reconciliation and relationships to the moon,” she says.

Starting with the importance of language

In the process of this research, Chiblow created an Anishinaabemowin-to-English glossary – an indispensable new resource that underscores the importance of language. Phrases like ‘I am searching for knowledge,’ ‘listen with your entire being,’ and ‘making things right’ speak volumes [pun intended].

“Language is central to Indigenous people’s lives and ties together their history, identity, spirituality and territory, while preserving culturally unique ways of seeing and relating to the world,” she explains. To her, language is paramount in conveying worldviews, and preserving and revitalizing Indigenous ways of knowing and being.

Glossary of Anishinaabemowin to English

Anishinaabek – plural, used to describe Ojibway peoples
Anishinaabe – singular, used to describe an Ojibway person
Biskaabiiyang – returning to ourselves
Anishinaabemowin – Ojibway language
Mishi zaageeng – north part of Lake Huron
G’giikendaaswinmin – our knowledge
Kendaaswin – knowledge
N’bi – water
Ndod-ne-aah-non chi-kendaaswin – I am searching for knowledge
Ndakenjigewin – I am actively searching for something I need to know
Minobimadziwin – the good life
Mishoomsinaanik – plural, grandfathers
Nookomisinaanik – plural, grandmothers
Nookomis Giizis – singular, grandmother moon
Bizindam – to listen with your entire being
Asemaa – tobacco
Gweksidoon – putting things right
Shkaakemaa kwe – Mother Earth
Mushkegowuk – the word used by Cree people for themselves
Onkwehonwe – the word the Six Nations use to describe themselves (they also
use Haudeonsaune)

How does one begin this kind of research? By listening to Indigenous wisdom

Chiblow began by listening; she conducted this research by following instructions provided by Anishinaabek Elders. She focused on grassroots peoples, mishoomsinaanik [grandfathers], nookmisinaanik [grandmothers] and traditional knowledge holders – “people who are often left out of the conversation on such matters,” she says.

She sought to learn more about three things:

  1. N’bi governance and Anishinaabek women: Here, Chiblow asked: “How does Anishinaabek law construct the role of women in decision making about N’bi?”
  2. Reconciliation and relationships with N’bi: On this subject, she posed key questions: “Can the broader discourse about reconciliation assist with improving humanity’s relationship to N’bi? How might reconciliation assist with addressing environmental conflicts?”
  3. Anishinaabek law and Nookomis Giizis [grandmother moon]: Here, Chiblow wondered: “What are the relationships and responsibilities between Anishinaabek and Nookomis Giizis and how can these relationships and responsibilities inform sustainable N’bi governance including women’s roles in N’bi governance decision making?”

To answer these all-encompassing questions, she consulted with the teachings of her ancestors and spoke with Anishinaabek Elders, language speakers and women from the Great Lakes territory. She read and summed up a great deal of existing research – “a wave of Indigenous scholars.” Her research methodology draws on the works of scholars including Shawn Wilson, Linda Smith and Margaret Kovach, with specific focus on Wendy Geniusz’s Biskaabiiyang.

Broadly speaking, Chiblow drew on Indigenous theoretical frameworks that emphasize responsibility and relationships to place. This allowed her to effectively tie together decolonializing methodologies with Indigenous methodologies in an ingenious and original way.

Women are carriers of birth water with specific responsibilities to N’bi
Women are carriers of birth water with specific responsibilities to N’bi

Key revelations may assist future discussions on water sustainability

Chiblow offers some vital affirmations and revelations that will inform future discussions around the sustainability of water. She affirms the importance of including Elders, the need for all those engaging in research in Indigenous communities to be aware of historical unethical research, and the importance of language.

The pinnacle of Chiblow’s article is, arguably, the two, profound concluding revelations:

  1. Women are carriers of birth water with specific responsibilities to N’bi. But women’s knowledge is being suppressed and, if this wisdom is not honoured, the imbalance of male:female energies could cause the destruction of Mother Earth.
  2. Governance by Indigenous Peoples of the lands and waters has been recognized by international bodies as an important avenue for achieving sustainable use. “It would therefore be illogical to leave the Elders, the language, and women out of sustainable N’bi governance,” she concludes.

To read the article, visit the website. To read about the Indigenous Environmental Justice Project, visit the website.

To learn more about Research & Innovation at York, follow us at @YUResearch; watch our new animated video, which profiles current research strengths and areas of opportunity, such as Artificial Intelligence and Indigenous futurities; and see the snapshot infographic, a glimpse of the year’s successes.

By Megan Mueller, senior manager, Research Communications, Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation, York University,

York researchers investigate challenge of how to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy in urban cities

water and renewable energy

A recent report by researchers in York University’s Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change presents new findings on the statuses of international urban cities pursuing 100 per cent renewable energy, and analyzes the approaches of six cities in Canada and Europe that have adopted 100 per cent renewable energy plans.

The report, titled “Planning 100% Renewable Energy Urban Cities: Global Status and Solutions” was co-written by Christina E. Hoicka, associate professor in sustainable energy economics, and Jessica Conroy, a recent graduate of York’s Master of Environmental Studies program. Research presented in the report was completed at Hoicka’s Social Exergy + Energy Lab, which conducts research on renewable energy, community energy, gender and energy, Indigenous energy, energy justice, participation, innovation and diffusion in low-carbon energy transitions.

Christina E. Hoicka
Christina E. Hoicka

Transitioning to renewable energy is understood as an effective strategy to limit the rise in average global temperature to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels and mitigate harmful climate change impacts. However, transitioning to 100 per cent renewable energy presents a complex technological, political and social challenge for urban cities, and it is currently unclear how it can best be fully achieved.

The report documents urban cities planning to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy; examines each city’s current stage of the local energy planning process; and investigates the proposed solutions in city plans, including policy instruments, technological and innovative solutions and stakeholders involved.

Researchers found that globally, 276 urban cities have committed to or achieved various ambitions of 100 per cent renewable energy. While no ‘urban city’ has successfully achieved 100 per cent renewable energy city-wide, they located 20 that have commitments, and six with approved plans. The study focused on the six cities with 100 per cent renewable energy plans: Vancouver, Victoria and Saanich in B.C., Canada; and Paris, Malmö and Frankfurt in Europe.

An analysis of the plans found several common approaches that have been adopted to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy:

  • Each city will focus on demand reduction, energy conservation and improving energy efficiency first, in order to more easily switch to renewable energy.
  • All cities specified that renewable energy will be generated within city limits through technologies and innovations such as solar rooftop; on-site geothermal, on-site solar, biogas and wind; geothermal heating; renewable natural gas; microgrids; and district energy/district heat and cooling.
  • Each city also recognized the need to import renewable energy from outside of its geographic limits, but the European cities are adopting a different importation strategy than their Canadian counterparts. While Paris, Malmö and Frankfurt plan to engage surrounding districts and authorities in a decentralized approach, Saanich, Vancouver and Victoria will pursue a centralized strategy that relies on electricity provided by BC Hydro.

Jessica Conroy
Jessica Conroy

The results of this research demonstrate how challenging and ambitious it is for urban cities to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy. Urban communities are not the only communities engaged when urban cities plan for climate change, and the researchers emphasize the importance of adopting a multi-stakeholder approach involving both local and non-local actors.

On the local level, residents and community organizations need to be engaged, and societal acceptance is an important factor in the transition. However, because it is not possible to switch entirely to local energy generation within dense urban cities, cities will also need to work with other neighbouring municipalities, levels of government, and external stakeholders to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy.

This research was funded by a Critical Perspectives in Global Health Seed Grant from the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research at York University. Founded in 2015, the Institute is made up of global health leaders, researchers, practitioners and students addressing 21st century global health challenges focused in three areas: Planetary Health, Global Health & Humanitarianism, and Global Health Foresighting.

The full report can be accessed online.