Better Buildings Boot Camp exemplifies experiential sustainability education

Architect's/designer's hands holding a pen and model house on draft paper with a construction hat and calculator in view.

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.

Four projects receive funding through York’s Sustainability Innovation Fund


A selection committee from the President’s Sustainability Council identified projects that advance climate action at the University for the second round of funding from York’s Sustainability Innovation Fund (SIF). 

The Sustainability Innovation Fund provides funding to support campus sustainability projects that help build a culture and practice of sustainability at York University and advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This round of funding awarded over $50,000 to projects that contribute to the University’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 and achieving net zero and advancing SDG 13 (Climate Action).  

The winning projects reflect various ways to utilize the campus as a living lab and address direct or indirect emissions through activities such as commuting, energy use, food consumption, waste management, behaviour change, awareness and engagement, and nature-based solutions.  

“By supporting these projects, we are making significant strides towards creating a more sustainable community at York University and beyond,” said Mike Layton, chief sustainability officer. “We’re also breaking down financial barriers to empower students, staff and faculty to become agents of positive change and take meaningful steps to reduce our impact on the planet.” 

The four winning projects are:  

Living Learning Community – Sustainability  

  • Project team: ​Aaron Brown and Melanie Howard​, Residence Life, Division of Students ​  
  • Residence Life will pilot a Living Learning Community (LLC) specific to sustainability during the 2023-24 academic year. The program seeks to address SDG 12 (Ensure sustainable production and consumption patterns) and 13 (Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts).

York University Composting Centre  

  • Project lead: John Simoulidis 
  • Project team: Andrew Maxwell (Lassonde School of Engineering), Dean J.J. McMurtry (Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS)), Dean Alice Hovorka (Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC)), Tom Watt (Ancillary Services), Calvin Lakhan (EUC), Mark Winfield (EUC), Karl Karvonen (Facilities Services), Sabine Dreher (Glendon College), Nicolas Cabal (student), Ronon Smith (student), Sabrina de Losada Casab (student)  
  • This project began through the first round of SIF. It will continue to develop an on-site composting centre to divert organic waste away from landfills, process it on site and turn it into useful compost that can be applied at Maloca Garden (Keele) or Glendon Garden, two spaces well situated as ”living labs.” 

Green Career Fair: Exploring Climate Careers to Achieve Net Zero  

  • Project leads: Lauren Castelino, Joanne Huy and Rosanna Chowdury (EUC) 
  • This project will host an annual Green Career Fair at York University to engage students and GTA youth. The fair will lead discussions on transitioning to net-zero emissions and showcase green career paths and organizations championing initiatives towards this goal. It aims to prepare underrepresented youth for green careers through nurturing a stronger sense of connection, inclusion and well-being.  

Determining the merits of large battery electricity storage at York University  

  • Project lead: Tim Hampton (EUC) 
  • Project team: Mark Winfield (EUC), Hany Farag (Lassonde), Steven Prince (Facilities Services)  
  • This project will assess the desirability (environmental impact reduction), feasibility (fit with existing campus infrastructure and staffing) and viability (whether the system will reduce overall costs) of a large battery storage system at York University.   

The next round of SIF funding is planned for Fall 2023. To learn more about the Sustainability Innovation Fund, visit the Office of Sustainability website

York takes academic leadership role at Congress 2023 

Female conference lecture teacher professor

By Ashley Goodfellow Craig, editor, YFile

Upwards of 250 York University faculty members and scholars are among the presenters during the 2023 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, where they take an academic leadership role in sharing their research with colleagues from across the nation. 

The flagship event of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences – taking place May 27 to June 2 at York University’s Keele Campus – returns to an in-person format this year, following a hiatus in 2020 and the subsequent virtual format in 2021 and 2022. Congress is the largest academic gathering in Canada, with at least 10,000 participants attending this year. The event was last hosted at York University in 2006. 

Congress 2023 provides a platform for critical conversations, including diverse voices and perspectives to create collaborations that help drive the future of post-secondary education. This year’s theme “Reckonings and Re-Imaginings” will guide the direction of discussions and knowledge sharing in presentations, panels, workshops and more.

Andrea Davis
Andrea Davis

“I am excited by this theme because it’s a call to reflection on where we (as scholars, activists, artists and thinkers) are and how we got here,” said York University Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies Professor Andrea Davis, who is serving as academic convenor for Congress 2023, when the theme was announced. “Rather than simply centering the problems, this theme insists that we imagine otherwise – that we consider what a different set of possibilities might look like and that we come together collectively to create the kind of world we want to live in.” 

York faculty and scholars will contribute their humanities and social sciences research and expertise through more than 250 different events scheduled in a variety of programming streams, such as the Big Thinking Lecture Series, Career Corner, Black and racialized programming, Indigenous programming, scholarly presentations and more. 

Contributions come from all 11 York Faculties, three Organized Research Units, two divisions and other units, such as the Teaching Commons and York International. 

“We took the opportunity to apply York’s strengths as an institution that is known for supporting social justice and social responsibility. At Congress 2023, the University is playing an active role in igniting and sustaining positive change through scholarship, creative practice and conversations that generate new perspectives,” said Lisa Philipps, provost and vice-president academic.

Philipps is also a member of the Scholarly Planning Committee for Congress, which is comprised of York faculty, staff, graduate students and senior leadership, who together have helped to guide and shape the themes and programming for this year’s event through broad consultation with the York community. Learn more about the Scholarly Planning Committee here

York programming at Congress 2023 

The School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design will feature work from faculty and graduate students with topics exploring culturally relevant pedagogy, accessible tech for Canadian artists, film screenings and more. 

Diverse programming from the Faculty of Education – which contributes to more than 60 events – includes re-imagining teacher education, book launch events, the risks of queer lives during the pandemic, findings from a Black feminist qualitative study and more from faculty and graduate students. 

Both faculty and graduate students from the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change will participate and explore topics such as the intersectional feminist approach to gathering and analyzing stories that reconsider risk, and a look at ceremonies of mourning, remembrance and care in the context of violence and more.

Glendon College faculty members will consider the ascent of right-wing populism in Canada, the politics of refusal in the Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette novel Suzanne, and more. 

Research by graduate students will be the focus of contributions from the Faculty of Graduate Studies, with a variety of presentations on diverse topics, including the impact of the pandemic on intimate partner violence in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, a focus on mental health and the suicide of Black men, female activists and their relationships with their mothers, and more. 

From the Faculty of Health, faculty members will explore how academic nursing leaders addressed the complexities of sustaining quality nursing education programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, participate in a roundtable on transnational Black communities and overcoming epidemics and a panel on promising practices that support aging with equity. Faculty will also present research on Indian immigrant fatherhood in the perinatal period, the experiences of immigrant Pakistani youths, and Asian Canadian exclusionary experiences in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to research contributions, a graduate program assistant will perform at the Swag Stage.

Lassonde School of Engineering will have contributions from faculty and an undergraduate student that focuses on designing a more equitable science curricula and York’s Cross-Campus Capstone Classroom (C4), which will be presented in partnership with a student from the Schulich School of Business.

Knowledge sharing from the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies will come from undergraduate students, graduate students, teaching and research assistants and faculty, with participation in upwards of 80 different events at Congress. Some of the research will cover racial profiling among Canadian university professors of Chinese descent, re-imagining criminal justice, activism and inclusion, decolonizing transnational human rights engagements and partnerships in Africa, queer rural teacher activists and more. 

Osgoode Hall Law School faculty members and a visiting Fellow will present their research on girls and Young Women before the Cour du bienêtre social of Montréal, conflicting interpretations of women in Canada’s thalidomide tragedy and Indigenous laws and jurisdiction for addressing harm. 

Faculty members representing the Faculty of Science will share their research on geological fantasies, the stark effect, and offer perspectives during a roundtable on overcoming epidemics and the transnational Black communities’ response. 

Find more information about open programming events at Congress here:  

Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living: Building a better future with Lina Brand Correa

Globe and York branded box for the Microlecture Series launch

York University’s free Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living is an innovative, interdisciplinary and open access program that gives participants the opportunity to earn a first-of-its-kind digital badge in sustainable living.

Throughout the Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living, six of York University’s world-renowned experts share research, thoughts and advice on a range of critical topics related to sustainability. Their leadership and expertise, however, extends beyond the six-minute presentations.

Over the next several weeks, YFile will present a six-part series featuring the professors’ work, their expert insights into York’s contributions to sustainability, and how accepting the responsibility of being a sustainable living ambassador can help right the future.

Part two features Assistant Professor Lina Brand Correa.

Lina Brand Correa, photo by Joseph Burrell
Lina Brand Correa

Lina Brand Correa is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) and a coordinator for the Business and the Environment graduate diploma. Her research uses an ecological economics lens and focuses primarily on energy and well-being issues, and their intersection. She is interested in exploring topics all along the energy chain, from “EROI” – or energy return on investment – on the energy supply side, to “energy poverty” on the energy demand side, and many other topics in between.

A champion of energy transformations, rather than simply reforms or transitions, Brand Correa’s work is as illuminating as it is pressing. Warning her students and contemporaries about the dangers of the rebound effect – whereby advances in energy efficiency result in greater energy use due to reductions in cost, such that any possible energy savings are undone before they are realized; the necessity for reductions in overall levels of energy use, particularly in the Global North; and the injustices embedded in an extremely unequal energy landscape – she demonstrates the immediate need for perspective shifts, not just in the realm of technology, but in the social, economic and political spheres as well.

Q: What does it mean to be a “sustainable living ambassador” and how does it foster positive change? 

A: To me being a sustainable living ambassador means enacting, in your day-to-day life, the type of world you would like to live in. Every day we play all sorts of different roles. Yes, we are consumers and our consumption choices matter, but we are so much more than that: we are citizens, friends, family and community members, students, teachers, employers and employees, activists, teammates, carers, neighbours, campaigners, customers, constituents and voters, and so on.

By realizing that we play all these roles, and thinking about how we can work to create the world we would like to live in in all the spheres where we interact with others, I think sustainable living ambassadors can foster positive change. However, this work requires asking difficult questions, of ourselves and of others, and actively deciding to do things differently. Importantly, this will likely include increasing the spheres where we interact with others, as it is only as broader communities, rather than as individuals, that we will foster true change.

Q: What would make you most proud for viewers to take away from your lecture, and the series as a whole?

A: From my lecture in particular, I would be very proud if viewers could take away a critical lens on current energy issues, questioning proposed solutions that focus exclusively on technological improvements. Our climate and energy issues are not a technological problem which we can engineer ourselves out of. Our climate and energy issues are embedded in broader social, economic and political issues, and this is the time to tackle them. And I think that is the message of the series as a whole: we cannot forget about people and society when we are thinking about solving environmental challenges.

Q: Equity and equality are a common theme throughout these sustainability lectures. Why is that such a critical component of sustainability? 

A: In my view, equity and justice are central to sustainability for two main reasons. On the one hand, we cannot achieve sustainability with high levels of inequality. High concentrations of income and wealth are linked to disproportionally high levels of environmental impact. This is certainly true for greenhouse gas emissions and energy use. Both between and within countries, there are certain segments of the population who are disproportionally driving emissions. So tackling carbon and energy inequalities is key for sustainability, including addressing extravagant levels of wealth accumulation and income inequality.  

On the other hand, addressing inequalities is the ethical thing to do. We can’t focus on saving our ecosystems without focusing on bringing everyone along. Many climate and energy policies are proposed and assessed in relation to their environmental outcomes. However, the social outcomes of climate policies are just as important, if not more. That means, amongst other things for example, correcting the wrongs of the past at an international level – including extractive colonial practices that remain today as unequal terms of trade and debt-based financing – and lifting people out of poverty and deprivation, for example, through guaranteed access to basic services.

Q: Are there changes you’ve made in your work at York that other York community members can learn from? 

A: In my work at York, I’ve tried to change my teaching style to focus on preparing students to deal with real-life situations, rather than staying in a conceptual world. I encourage students to relate what we are learning in class to their day-to-day lives and to what they are seeing around them, in the news, on social media, in politics, at the workplace. I also try to encourage them to be creative about change, how it can happen and what can the future look like. 

Moreover, I try to engage with initiatives that seek to generate change at a broader level. For instance, I follow the work of YUFA’s Climate Emergency Committee and York U Fossil Free, and will also be following the work of York University’s Office for Sustainability.

Q: How do you view collective responsibility vs. personal responsibility in creating a more sustainable future? 

A: I think we need both, in tandem. Collectively we need to enable and support people to be able to make individual decisions that support a more sustainable future. And individually we need to make changes that will push the collective to take the responsibility for creating the conditions for such a future.

Q: How is York leading the way towards a more sustainable future?

A: Sustainability is a key area of focus in my own Faculty (EUC), where many of my colleagues and I research and teach with a focus on environmental and social justice. York U’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Mike Layton, is an alum from EUC’s Master’s in Environmental Studies (MES). Like Mike, many of our alumni go on to make real change towards sustainability in their communities and work environments. It is there, in our alumni, where I see York having the greatest impact towards a more sustainable future. 

York is also considering questions of sustainability across its own operations, taking important and commendable steps. The University has an Office of Sustainability, tasked with collegially developing a shared vision of a sustainable future, setting targets and strategies, implementing and promoting them, and monitoring the University’s progress towards that vision. However, given the scale of the interlocked crises we are facing, there is still much more to do (for example divestment from fossil fuels). I think York has the potential to truly lead the way towards a more sustainable future, in all aspects of University life, but it requires bold and brave actions from everyone in the University community.

Visit the Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living to see Brand Correa’s full lecture, as well as those by the other five experts, and earn your Sustainable Living Ambassador badge. Watch for part three of this series in an upcoming issue of YFile. For part one, go 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.

Creating and celebrating changemakers at EUC

gold and red stars

By Elaine Smith

The Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) at York University was formed in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, and began forging its identity during the challenging period of isolation and remote course delivery. The first Changemakers Celebration – slated to be an annual event – ushered in a special joy when the achievements of EUC educators were commemorated in person.

“I wanted to accomplish two things this year,” EUC Dean Alice Hovorka told the assembled students, staff and faculty during the April event. “I wanted us to build community, especially coming out of the pandemic when we find ourselves with new ways of being in the world, and I wanted to document our impact – thus, our Changemakers event.

“As a new Faculty, the first couple of years were spent telling people all about who we are, what we do and what our programs are. Now, I want us to tell stories about what we’re accomplishing and the impact we’re having on the York University community and well beyond.”

The celebration marked the launch of the inaugural EUC Impact Report and lauded student researchers, volunteers and leaders. First up were the recipients of the 2022 Dean’s Changemaker Awards: William Anthony, Justin Chan, Thereza Eric, Samantha Navalta and Kaitlin Pal. These five students were given paid placement opportunities with EUC’s living labs and were required to design and pursue a project that created change.

Dean Alice Hovorka, Kaitlin Pal, Thereza Eric, Justin Chan and William Anthony
Dean Alice Hovorka, Kaitlin Pal, Thereza Eric, Justin Chan and William Anthony

Many other students were recognized for their extra-curricular contributions to EUC during the celebration. Ann Tsirgielis, EUC’s student success advisor, congratulated the Faculty’s peer mentors, including Ryan Raymond Faria-Wong, the program coordinator.

Faria-Wong called his peers “highly dedicated individuals who go above and beyond to offer their knowledge and time to help others. … peer mentors assist in navigating questions and uncertainties and that goes a long way.”

Ann Tsirgielis, Summer Solmes, Kaitlin Pal, Ryan Raymond Faria-Wong, Phuong Tia Nguyen, Maya Olszewska, Sofia Colalillo, Emma Bramante, Catherine Lombardo
Ann Tsirgielis, Summer Solmes, Kaitlin Pal, Ryan Raymond Faria-Wong, Phuong Tia Nguyen, Maya Olszewska, Sofia Colalillo, Emma Bramante, Catherine Lombardo

Summer Solmes, a student leader, spoke about the value of student clubs, whose members were also celebrated.

“Student groups drive change in this Faculty because they are composed of hardworking and passionate individuals,” she said. “Being a member of a student group offers you a chance to grow into the person you will one day become; it is a chance to manifest your future self.”

Rosanna Chowdhury, experiential education coordinator, and Deena Shaffer, director of EUC’s Office of Student and Academic Services, offered praise for the many other engaged students, including participants in the governance process, work-study students, volunteers and student leaders. EUC recognized 50 graduate and 11 undergraduate students earning academic and research awards, including the EUC Research Award (EUCRA), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) awards, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) awards and many more.

The celebration also honoured recipients of the 2022/23 EUC Dean’s Awards.

Ilan Kapoor, Nashwa Khan, Joanne Huy
Ilan Kapoor, Nashwa Khan, Joanne Huy

Professor Ilan Kapoor was the recipient of the Dean’s Teaching Award (faculty) with his nominators praising his exceptional pedagogical abilities: “He brings complex and dense subject matter alive, encourages critical thinking and allows students to be their best.”

Nashwa Khan, received the Dean’s Teaching Award (graduate student) for her pedagogical innovation and student support. She noted: “As a first-generation student and a Muslim woman, I understand the challenges that students from unique, diverse backgrounds often face. I have strived to make my educational practice one that is rooted in equity and care.”

Paul Elliot, Nicki Hemmings & Dean Alice Hovorka
Paul Elliot, Nicki Hemmings and Dean Alice Hovorka

Joanne Huy, an alumni officer and EUC alumna, received the Dean’s Staff Recognition Award for her “unwavering commitment to excellence, creativity, innovation and leadership,” and her pivotal role in building community.

Finally, the Dean’s Impact Leader Award went to Nicki Hemmings, the departing human resources business partner, for her “substantive impact on our souls, hearts, processes, structures and culture,” said Hovorka.

The event concluded with the launch of the EUC Impact Report 2022/23.

“I want everyone to appreciate what EUC is doing to impact the world around us,” said Hovorka. “We’re enhancing the student experience, facilitating research excellence, advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and championing equity and Black inclusion.

“Like this celebration, I really see the report as a representation of all of us putting our best foot forward and working for more justice and sustainability in the world.”

For highlights from the inaugural Changemakers event, see the video below.

Congress 2023 screens Indigenous-focused films

film camera

By Elaine Smith

A group of female directors will bring their Indigenous-focused films to York’s Keele Campus during Congress 2023 in late May.

Both conference attendees and the general public will have the opportunity to see the works of Ange Loft, Martha Stiegman, Angele Alook and Paulette Moore free of charge as part of the conference’s community programming. They touch on a variety of issues and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including reduced inequalities, life on land and gender equality.

Loft, a multidisciplinary artist, and Stiegman, an associate professor in the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC), are part of Jumblies Theatre & Arts’ Talking Treaties project which is produced By These Presents: “Purchasing” Toronto and screens on May 28. The piece was created to explore the treaty negotiations between the colonizing British and the Mississaugas of the Credit, for the land the City of Toronto now occupies. Afterward, Amar Bhatia, co-director of Osgoode Hall’s Intensive Program in Indigenous Lands, Resources and Governments, will facilitate a discussion with members of the creative team.

“Using archival records and minutes of the treaty negotiations, we see the underhanded calculus and fraudulent means used to acquire Mississauga lands,” says Stiegman. “It [the film] uses sardonic humour as sugar on the medicine of truth to draw people in and engage them in a different way of learning about history so they don’t feel like they are doing homework.”

Alook, assistant professor in the School of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies brings her work, pîkopayin (It Is Broken), to the screen on May 27. Part of the Just Powers project on energy transition and environmental and social justice, the film looks at the impacts of resource extraction on the community of Bigstone Cree Nation in Alberta, Alook’s home territory, which sits amidst the oil sands in the boreal forest. It documents traditional land users’ practices such as hunting, harvesting, and land-based teaching, while talking to the residents about their visions of the future on these lands.

The final films, VeRONAka and Rahyne, screen on June 1 and are followed by a panel discussion moderated by director Paulette Moore, an EUC PhD student, filmmaker and owner of The Aunties Dandelion media organization. VeRONAka is a 10-minute live-action fictional film, both humorous and serious, that explores the true story of how a Mohawk clan mother gave COVID-19 a Mohawk name, personifying the out-of-control virus. Once a person is in relationship with the virus, they can understand why it is here and ask it to leave. Rahyne is a short, animated film about an Afro-Indigenous non-binary teen whose identity is united through two water spirits. Moore will talk with Rahyne’s co-directors Queen Kukoyi and Nico Taylor about how film can help explore concepts of identity and naming. 

York University and the Federation for Humanities and Social Sciences will host Congress 2023 from May 27 to June 2. Register here to attend; community passes are available and term dates have been adjusted to align with timelines for this year’s event.

Centre for Bee Ecology, Evolution and Conservation hosts garden party for World Bee Day

Macro photo of green metallic sweat bee perched on a yellow flower

The Centre for Bee Ecology, Evolution and Conservation (BEEc) will once again mark the annual United Nations World Bee Day with new events designed to promote the health of local pollinators.

This year, for the first time, BEEc and the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) welcome all members of the University community to the EUC Native Plant Garden party on May 16 from 2:30 to 5 p.m.

World Bee Day, led internationally by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), is dedicated to acknowledging and spreading awareness of the plethora of vital environmental processes that depend on the often underappreciated work of Earth’s busy bees.

“Bees are one of the most important groups of pollinators in the world, yet most people are unaware that we have at least 350 species in the GTA alone,” explains BEEc Coordinator Victoria MacPhail. “The EUC Native Plant Garden is an oasis for them on a campus full of concrete and buildings, providing food, shelter and nesting sites throughout the year.”

Observed around the world on Saturday, May 20, this year World Bee Day will arrive early at York in order to allow for the participation of as many interested community members as possible.

“We’re excited to celebrate World Bee Day a few days early with the whole York University community, to take this opportunity to share our love and knowledge of bees with others,” MacPhail says. “We have a wealth of free resources and are happy to chat with people about what they can do to help pollinators, from planting native flowers to advocating for increased protections.”

A lush planter box full of a variety of species of wild flowers
One of the EUC native species planter boxes to be maintained for World Bee Day

The featured garden party event is sponsored in part by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada and is open to all staff, students and faculty, as well as members of the public from outside of the University. Attendees will learn from York’s expert mellitologists, as well as free handouts, pinned insect displays, example bee nests and more, about the highly diverse bee species indigenous to Toronto and Southern Ontario at large, as well as the local flora that they depend on for sustenance. As a part of this hands-on learning experience, guests will be able to contribute to the University’s floral biodiversity by planting new native species in the EUC garden and removing invasive species that are less conducive to the health of local pollinators.

“We’re so thrilled to invigorate our relationship and stewardship of this wonderful garden started by [Professors] Gerde Werkerle and Leesa Fawcett, among others, with the partnership of BEEc. Hundreds of students pass by or attend summer classes in this rooftop garden sitting atop lecture halls and we want them to come to know this lively oasis of over 40 species – some of them edible. May 16 will be a great start to what we anticipate will be an amazing season,” says Phyllis Novak, director of the EUC Maloca Community and Native Plant Gardens.

York community members who intend to join in the gardening are asked to RSVP here by Friday, May 12. Members of the public are encouraged to drop in to this event and are not required to register. No prior experience or personal equipment is required to join in the gardening. Participants are encouraged to dress for the elements as this event will run rain or shine.

MacPhail says gardening volunteers can expect to “see examples of bee species – from tiny, smooth, black solitary bees that are only a few millimeters long and can be mistaken for flies or ants, to the large, fuzzy bumblebees that can be up to a couple centimeters in size, and whose queens are easily seen this time of year.

“Toronto’s official bee, the green metallic sweat bee – or Agapostemon virescens – has already been seen nesting in the garden, and we are confident that the upcoming garden party will help to improve the habitat for it and many other wildlife species,” she adds.

Additional BEEc-hosted events will run following the garden party and in the lead up to the official World Bee Day, including a cocktail fundraiser to help endow a fund for EUC graduate students studying bees on May 17 in Markham, as well as a Scholars’ Hub virtual seminar on May 18 detailing the leading-edge research on bees being carried out at York.

For more information on these supplemental Bee Day events, contact or see the BEEc news and social media page.

Visiting artist Zeelie Brown to celebrate Black, queer ecologies through quilt-making

quilt patches
quilt patches

The Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) welcomes visiting Artist-in-Residence Zeelie Brown from May 11 to 19.

Artist Zeelie Brown holding cello under dramatic teal lighting
Zeelie Brown

Brown’s artistry stems from her upbringing in rural Alabama. She creates Black and queer refuges called “soulscapes” – blending sound, performance, installation, wilderness and more to provide solace and challenge systemic oppression.

Hosted by EUC Professor Andil Gosine, Brown will collaborate with the Faculty to create a quilt, exploring the intersections of Black and queer identities and nature, which will be shared at Gosine’s keynote lecture at the Sexuality Studies Association conference as part of the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences on May 29.

Staff, students and faculty are encouraged to attend a meet-and-greet with Brown on May 18 at 10:30 a.m. in HNES 138.

Brown met with graduate student researcher Danielle Legault to talk about her upcoming visit.

Q: Can you please share a bit about who Zeelie Brown is?

A: Well, I am an installation artist, cellist and butcher. I am from the woods of Alabama and San Antonio, Texas, where I grew up going back and forth between both places. In my practice I am very much concerned with environment and space. I’m concerned with the ideas of wilderness, Black people’s experience of wilderness, the idea of wilderness as a constructed place, and how queerness, humanity and grace intersect in order to envision and build a more sustainable future.

Q: Can you describe what goals you have for your visit to Toronto and York University?

A: I’m only here for a week, so I’m excited to engage in the exploration of art, craft and culture and to share my perspective, the place I come from and the struggles of that place. These include struggles around adequately weatherproofed housing, the continued colonial legacy of environmental racism, the racism embedded within the landscape architecture of the American project – America being considered a continent and not just a country here – and struggles around place building and the intersections of Blackness, queerness and different identities. And more than all of that, the ability to create from, and beyond, those places.

I’m also excited to learn more about Canada and about Toronto. I’ve met other queer activists through work that I’ve done in the past that I’m interested in following up with. I’m excited to see where our struggles can meet one another and support one another.

Q: You will be working on a project with Professor Andil Gosine while you are here. Can you share some details about that?

A: I’ll be making a collaborative community quilt with York University students and Professor Gosine, centered around ideas contained within his book, Nature’s Wild. The quilt will be a meditation on the intersection of the students’ own personal expressions of their identities and their own interfaces with nature and the ideas of Blackness, wilderness and being from the margin. So, we’re making a quilt, but I’m really interested in pushing the boundaries and exploring what form the quilt will take.

Q: Can you speak about the significance of quilting and how it can push boundaries?

A: In Alabama, we’re world-renowned for our quilting tradition. But to me, quilting is about taking the things that are left over and making art of the discards. It comes from a very long African tradition of abhorring waste. Lots of traditions have this, where “waste not, want not” is traditionally part of the culture.

I think often art is seen as a solitary exercise and not as a means of holding and tying together a community. But what did those quilts in Alabama do? They reminded people of their lost loved ones. They kept people warm. They have a very practical function. And in a situation of enforced dearth, where a Black rural culture that has given everything to the American project is being inhaled, robbed and tied to a racist myth constructed to keep the plantation class rich in their culture and power. The community takes its scraps and makes art and warmth, and joy and love.

Q: Is there anything you would like to share with the York community before your arrival?

A: I want to thank Toronto, York and Professor Gosine for having me here. I would like to emphasize thinking about the folks back home in the Black Belt who, due to the soil tectonics of that region, which were very conducive to growing cotton, have limited, if any, access to adequate sewage and are penalized by the state for the state’s failure. I want to uplift the work of Black folks in rural America.

When we slow down and take time for the rituals, like quilting, cooking, care, cultivating – when we start viewing these acts as important as profit, things start coming together and problems start getting solved. But when everybody’s after a quick buck, there’s often only so many quick bucks to be had.

Going back to what the goal of my time at York is; the goal of my project is to slow down, to create community and to revive traditions that are nearly lost because they don’t make money fast, yet have kept folks alive through some of the most harrowing and wretched treatment that humans have ever inflicted upon each other.

EUC professor’s book illustrates ‘power of nature to thrive’

Abandoned red brick building overtaken by plantlife

The Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) will host a launch event for Associate Professor Jennifer Foster’s latest book, Post-Industrial Urban Greenspace: Ecology, Aesthetics and Justice (2022) on Friday, May 19 at 1 p.m. in HNES 142.

Jennifer Foster close-up portrait
Jennifer Foster

Inspired by “the power of nature to thrive – no matter the conditions – and the impressive ways that communities build restorative and reparative futures in these places,” Foster’s book examines the means through which urban environments become habitats. For the book’s launch, Foster will discuss her work with a guest panel featuring: Sean Kheraj, environmental historian, vice-provost at Toronto Metropolitan University and host of the Nature’s Past podcast; Loren March, PhD candidate at the University of Toronto; and David Miller, former mayor of Toronto and managing director of the C40 Centre for City Climate Policy and Economy.

To accommodate all potential viewers, this event will also broadcast via Zoom. To join the broadcast contact Denise McLeod.

In anticipation of the book launch, Foster met with graduate student researcher Danielle Legault to talk about urban habitat creation in old industrial sites, and their social and biological significance.

Q: Can you speak to how this book fits into the longer trajectory of your academic work?

A: My work explores urban habitat creation, including examining contemporary environmental orthodoxies, or received wisdoms about how nature works, in favour of more nuanced interpretations that incorporate concepts like novel ecologies, queer ecologies, anti-colonial ecologies and environmental justice.

Since the mid-2000s, my work has focused specifically on post-industrial urban greenspaces and their evolution in relation to environmental justice concerns. This involves a lot of field work, which I love. I get to explore some of the most fascinating urban spaces – for instance, old factories, dumps, rail lines – and talk to people who care deeply about these places.

This book is about old industrial sites that have been abandoned, or at least left to be without formal management. These sites are not conventionally beautiful, they are typically evaluated as unsafe and their ecologies are scorned as overgrown weeds. Yet, they offer some of the best opportunities for ecologically rich and socially inclusive greenspace. They are life-giving hotpots, nuclei of urban bounty. And they function as alternative public spaces that provide relief from surveillance and other stressors, as well as opportunities for pleasure that diverge from the mainstream.

Q: What drew you to Milwaukee, Paris and Toronto as sites of exploration in your book?

Post-Industrial Urban Greenspace book cover
Post-Industrial Urban Greenspace: Ecology, Aesthetics and Justice (2022) by Jennifer Foster

A: Each of these cities offers insight into possibilities for large-scale old industrial urban spaces, and together they demonstrate that nothing is predetermined. Milwaukee is my mother’s hometown, and it’s a place where people are very proud of their working-class manufacturing roots. It’s also an incredibly beautiful and ecologically rich city. After the industrial core of Milwaukee was devastated in the 1980s and ‘90s, and the large central valley became a putrid no-go zone, a local community health center led the charge in imagining a future for this valley that serves existing residents. Emphasizing the social determinants of health, the valley was cleaned up, made accessible and inviting, and re-industrialized with quality jobs for local residents.

I spent my youth on the edges of Paris, thanks to my father’s job. Paris is glamourous and picturesque, but up to the early 1990s the edges of the city were also heavily industrial. Friends and I loved trespassing to explore the rail line that connected the city’s factories, abattoirs and warehouses. When the trains stopped running along the tracks and the rail company let it all go wild, this 32-kilometer ring became one of the most stunning urban greenspaces. I had to return and get to know it once again.

Anyone who has spent time at Toronto’s Leslie Street Spit knows that it defies description. It is a former construction waste dump, it is a world-class birding site and it is an archive of the buildings and communities that have been destroyed. It is a place of refuge from the city, it is a landscape of astounding biodiversity and it is home for many people. I have been visiting the Spit since I came to Toronto in the mid-1990s and it is my favourite part of the city.

Q: What actionable steps for promoting equitable, sustainable development do you hope readers will discover?

A: Letting go of conventional conceptions of ecology is crucial, as is becoming curious about the incredible beauty and richness of so-called degraded urban lands. I am not a fan of hiding the scars of industrial development or sanitizing industrial legacies, and I hope that we can move away from the habit of “greening over” these spaces through park planning and design. Embracing novel ecosystems, including those comprised of ostensibly exotic or non-native species, allows us to support urban environments that are self-sustaining and richly biodiverse habitats. This means resisting conventional Western aesthetic conceptions of what is beautiful, appropriate and ecologically desirable. Whenever possible, the needs and preferences of marginalized communities must be prioritized, as well as those with historic connections to industrial labour and working-class experiences of these places.

Finally, I hope that we can become more comfortable with the ideas of vacancy and indeterminacy, that urban spaces don’t always have to fit into recognizable categories with functional identities in relation to neoliberal progress. I hope that we can leave these spaces to evolve in unexpected ways, with unplanned uses that respond to the needs of alternative lived experiences.

Q: Having completed this book, how do you see your work moving forward in the future?

A: I will continue exploring the core themes of this book, such as urban political ecology, environmental justice, novel ecologies and habitat creation. But my work going forward will focus even more on ecological repair and restorative urban landscapes. I am particularly interested in prison ecologies, based on the experiences of incarceration of many of my family members and friends. I am inspired by energy and leadership of Indigenous scholars, activists and communities, and plan to do a lot of close listening and thinking about how we invest in anti-colonial futures. Whatever happens, I know that I will be spending a lot of time in messy ecosystems.