Urban Studies students advance learning with Montreal field trip

Montreal skyline

Living in the Greater Toronto Area, it’s not complicated for students in the Cities, Regions, Planning program at the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) to assess Toronto’s strengths and weakness, but an annual field trip to Montreal allows them to apply their analytical skills elsewhere.

For five years, Teresa Abbruzzese, an assistant professor and urban geographer, organized a field school – a short-term academic program consisting of mentored field research – in the fall for third-year Urban Studies students in her research methods course in the Department of Social Science in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies.  

She was excited to bring this experiential learning opportunity to her new home in the Cities, Regions, Planning program for her third-year course, Doing Urban Research: Theory & Practice, for the Fall 2024 term. 

The initiative gives students a chance to experience another city, using participant observation while taking notes and photos and having conversations with local citizens. The trip is mandatory and the costs are low, but there is a day trip to Hamilton, Ont., for a cheaper alternative. 

“The trip enables our students see the historical and contemporary issues facing Montreal and to develop a comparative understanding of cities,” said Abbruzzese. “It’s also important to give them the opportunity to do preliminary fieldwork.” 

“The point of the trip is to prepare them to work on their own individualized research project,” she said. “It trains them to be social scientists and allows them to hone their academic skills, such as critical analysis, research and writing.” 

Members of the Montreal field trip
At City Hall, (Front Row, L to R): Prof. Doug Young,  Prof. Teresa Abbruzzese, Councillor Sterling Downey, Prof. Silvano de la Llata (Concordia University), and Prof. Mike Cado right (Music, York); other rows: third-year students in Urban Studies/Cities, Regions, Planning 

The Montreal field school emerged from a political moment in history when Donald Trump assumed the American presidency in 2017. Abbruzzese and her colleagues in Urban Studies at the time decided to halt the field school to Buffalo – the original international location of the field school for many years – and instead they chose Montreal as the setting.  

Once the Canadian city was decided, Abbruzzese thoroughly enjoyed the creative process of putting together a new field school.  

“Logistically, it’s never easy to execute, but I strive to enhance the field school experience each year,” she said. “All the guest speakers make this field school special and welcome our urban group from York University back each year.” 

She, her students, and other professors boarded a Megabus for the ride east and followed a packed itinerary that included historian/expert-led walking tours of neighbourhoods such as Saint-Henri, Montreal North, Little Burgundy and Mile End; a visit with City Councillor Sterling Hall – who has experienced homelessness – and a tour of City Hall; and talks by professors from Concordia University.  

The students packed a lot into the trip, getting a sense of the richness and diversity of Montreal. They saw poverty and affluence, arts and industry. They gained an understanding of some of the city’s challenges with issues such as housing, transportation, socioeconomic disparities, public spaces and heritage as well as the French-English divide, said Abbruzzese. 

“All of this sparks comparative analysis in their heads and they begin to ask a lot of questions,” she said. “They’ll use all of this to create a manuscript – a fieldwork diary organized around themes. They’ll organize, reflect, and analyze their empirical notes and contextualize their observations with broader scholarly conversations in Urban Studies.” 

Just as important, noted Abbruzzese, is that the trip serves to transform the class from individual students into a community.  

“It is a tradition for professors from the program to join this field school, so that students have an opportunity to get to know the other professors in the program, and professors get to know the students,” she said. “Professor Doug Young from the Urban Studies program has joined me on this field school from Buffalo to Montreal for the last eight years. Students have always appreciated sharing this experience with other professors from the program, which made the experience more memorable.” 

“In addition, students become a support network for each other and become more connected after this field school,” she said. “They’re all friends afterward.” 

Vanessa Reynolds
Vanessa Reynolds

Vanessa Reynolds, a third-year geography and urban studies major, confirms that. “This was a group that hadn’t talked to each other in class, but we all bonded and, now, we’re really friends,” she said. “It was such a great experience; I’d recommend that anyone do it.” 

She found the trip eye-opening in many ways, and changed her perspectives. 

“I’m so Toronto-centric, but seeing Montreal gave me deeper insights into how a city runs, and seeing different parts of the city that people often don’t was amazing,” Reynolds said. Furthermore, she added, “I want to travel more. It makes you want to see the world. It was an experience that made university different.” 

Shazde Mir, a fourth-year urban studies major who plans to pursue a career in policy development or community planning, said Abbruzzese’s passion for Montreal made her glad she took the trip, as she got to know the city and gain insights into city planning. 

“I saw a different perspective of what it means to be an equitable city,” Mir said. “You can’t treat people as less than.” 

After visiting a working-class neighbourhood with prominent community initiatives that reminded her of Toronto’s Jane and Finch area, Mir wondered why cities have areas where a lack of investment from the government is visible. 

“I’ve started looking into tours here in Toronto to get to know the history of the city’s development,” she said. “I want to go back to Montreal and I’d like to visit other cities to see how different governments went about developing them, what the priorities were. 

“The trip solidified my love for Toronto. I want to see more progressive policies so we can create a more equitable city.” 

Ultimately, said Abbruzzese, “our objective is to produce graduates who are informed, critically engaged, and sensitive to issues of sustainability, social justice, equity and diversity.” 

Given the feedback, it is apparent she is meeting that goal. 

k2i academy and TDSB engage girls in STEM

young girls doing science

With the goal of encouraging girls to explore science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) pathways and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals ( UN SDGs), the k2i academy – an initiative by York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering – engaged with students at the Young Women on the Move: Possibilities Conference at Runnymede Elementary School, hosted by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB).

Since June 2020, the k2i academy and the TDSB have worked in partnership to foster a variety of programs aimed at breaking down barriers in STEM education. For example, the Bringing STEM to Life: In Schools initiative has brought experiential education to schools across the Greater Toronto Area, and the recently 407 ETR-funded Work Integrated Learning Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Fund will expand STEM offerings to under-represented students throughout the area, too.

The most recent example of the partnership, the Young Women on the Move event, engaged 200 girls from eight different elementary schools through an engineering design challenge – with a focus on the SDG priority on sustainable cities and communities ­– organized by the k2i team.

Mentors and k2i academy staff guided the students through building prototypes of earthquake-resilient structures, underlining the importance of creating inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable urban environments. In the process, they learned about earthquakes, the principles of stable structures, and the iterative process of designing, building and testing their prototypes using shaker testing tables.

This practical, hands-on experience introduced the girls to the engineering design process, emphasizing problem-solving and creativity in addressing real-world issues.

“Through our Possibilities Conference, we wanted to empower young women to see the endless possibilities available to them by building their confidence, breaking down barriers and stereotypes, and encouraging them to explore non-traditional courses of study,” says Lauren Rovas, vice-principal and Possibilities Conference lead organizer, TDSB. 

As a result, the k2i academy and the TDSB continue their shared purpose, and partnership, in encouraging the future of STEM careers being more inclusive.

“As a woman who studied physics, it is important for me to encourage and inspire the next generation of girls to consider STEM career pathways,” says Lisa Cole, director of programming, k2i academy. “k2i is thrilled to partner with TDSB to design and deliver programs that encourage youth to discover their curiosities, develop skills in coding and engineering design, and reach students and families who may not have considered STEM pathways.”

New CIHR Chair to advance Indigenous health research

Colorful bandaids

Professor Michael Rotondi of the School of Kinesiology & Health Science at York University was named an Applied Public Health Research Chair by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Public Health Agency of Canada to further advance a career dedicated to supporting the priorities of local Indigenous communities.

Michael Rotondi
Michael Rotondi

Rotondi’s appointment on March 26 to the 2024 cohort of Applied Public Health Research Chairs means he will receive $1.15 million in funding over six years to build on over a decade of working in partnership with Indigenous community health service providers to develop and apply advanced statistical techniques to improve the health of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples living in urban areas. Only 45 of these prestigious Chairs have been awarded since 2008, and Rotondi is the first professor at York to receive one and join the distinguished cohort.

“I am honoured to receive the award and humbled and grateful for the trust that the local Indigenous community partners and Elders have placed in me to help support their research and policy goals,” says Rotondi.

The Chair – titled Indigenous Health Counts: Combining Respondent-Driven Sampling, Partnerships and Training to Empower Urban Indigenous Communities – will advance several of Rotondi’s existing initiatives, including partnering with Statistics Canada to develop more accurate population counts of Indigenous Peoples living in cities and measuring the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on chronic health and mental health outcomes like diabetes, kidney disease, depression and anxiety in local, urban Indigenous populations. He will also look to co-create a health data training program to train the next generation of Indigenous researchers in data analysis techniques.

“Due to long-standing systemic barriers, there is a lack of quantitative health researchers who identify as Indigenous,” says Rotondi. “With the support of this program, we look forward to the near future when there is a substantial number of Indigenous peoples who have developed their expertise in data analysis and statistical methods and are able to share their own ‘data stories.’”

Building on Rotondi’s statistical expertise in respondent-driven sampling, his goal is to help address the lack of reliable health information for First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples in Canadian cities in order to identify and address large services gaps, and to advance the health and well-being of the local Indigenous community.

“I always see statistics as a tool to help, whether it is helping individuals, or entire communities. As an ally, my goal is to support the local Indigenous community to tell their own stories and help ensure they have the tools and information available to advocate for their needs,” says Rotondi.

In previous research, Rotondi and collaborators have determined that official census data vastly undercounts the local Indigenous population in Toronto, which leads to a critical inability to ensure the local Indigenous community receives appropriate health and social services. Rotondi and collaborators have also produced important data throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, providing one of the only sources of reliable data examining the rates of COVID-19 transmission and vaccination for Indigenous Peoples living in cities.

These studies have fallen under the Our Health Counts projects, which aim to create comprehensive health and wellness information for Indigenous Peoples living in urban areas, and have been developed in partnership with Well Living House and urban Indigenous service providers in six Ontario cities over 15 years.

His Chair program will continue to build on these community priorities. “I am excited to continue this work with the Indigenous community partners and local municipal, provincial and federal government agencies,” says Rotondi. “The results of this program will have substantial impact at the individual, community and policy levels.”

Open Education Month puts spotlight on accessible education

Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change students in class

March is Open Education Month, a time to celebrate open educational resources (OER), which are openly licensed, freely available educational materials that can be used, accessed, adapted and redistributed with limited restriction. York University’s engagement with OER has continued to expand and grow over the recent years, helping faculty create inclusive and adaptable learning environments while advancing a number of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) – specifically, UN SDG 4: Quality Education, UN SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities, and UN SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.

In an upcoming series of webinars scheduled for this month, Dominique Scheffel-Dunand, an associate professor in linguistics at York and co-lead for Camerise, York’s French-as-a-second-language (FSL) hub, will spearhead efforts to promote the use of Camerise, H5P, and Pressbooks for developing inclusive OER for FSL and English as a second language (ESL). Supported by a $5,000 award from eCampusOntario, Scheffel-Dunand and her co-presenter, education technology consultant Sushumna Rao Tadinada, will deliver these webinars in both English and French.

“The events that York is hosting and participating in for Open Education Month show that the University is making great strides to support the University Academic Plan’s priority of Access to Success,” said Sarah Coysh, associate dean of digital engagement and strategy at York University Libraries. “Open educational practices in the classroom help provide students with access to course learning materials from the first day of classes. Our York eCampusOntario OER Rangers have also been instrumental in helping to spread awareness of open education on campus and providing faculty, staff, and graduate students with training and guidance on embedding these practices into their teaching and outreach programs,”

The first webinar, titled “Creating Accessible Interactive OER with H5P for Language Teaching (FSL and ESL),” on March 14 from 8 to 9 a.m., will demonstrate the use of the Canvas (LMS) and H5P platforms to design massive open online courses (MOOCs) – open-access courses with unlimited participation – in both English and French, focusing on the values of openness and diversity.

The subsequent events will delve deeper into using Pressbooks and H5P to publish interactive and inclusive learning modules.

The second and third event, titled “Libérer la puissance de l’apprentissage interactif et inclusif avec Pressbooks et H5P en FLS et ESL,” will be offered first as a webinar and then as a hands-on workshop by Scheffel-Dunand and Tadinada Ra. Delivered in French, the sessions will illustrate using Pressbooks to publish collections of training modules developed with H5P and made accessible on Lumi, H5P.com, HTML or in PDF format. The two events focus on how to conceptualize the interoperability between various tools and publishing platforms such as H5P or Pressbooks to foster accessible and interactive learning, from K-12 to post-secondary education.

Interested individuals can attend the March 21 webinar from 8 to 9 a.m. or the March 28 hands-on workshop from 8 to 9:30 a.m.

“These webinars and workshop have been co-designed with Ontario educators to ensure stakeholders in FSL and ESL in the province and beyond explore how to author high-quality content and why it matters that such content be discoverable, reproducible and modified for localized contexts to meet community needs for language and culture,” said Scheffel-Dunand.

During the first week of March, eCampusOntario – a nonprofit organization supporting technology-enabled teaching, learning and innovation at Ontario’s publicly funded universities, colleges and Indigenous institutes – will also be hosting several webinars to promote OER and open educational practices. Charlotte de Araujo, an assistant professor in York’s Faculty of Science, and Stephanie Quail, acting director of the Libraries’ Open Scholarship department, were accepted into eCampusOntario’s OER Ranger program last August, making them York’s institutional champions of the use of OER.

De Araujo will be speaking at the eCampusOntario Zoom webinar titled “Designing and Publishing OERs: Creator Panel Discussion” on March 7 from noon to 1 p.m.

“The OER Ranger program has provided us with the opportunity to share the benefits of OERs with our academic community, promoting a collaborative dialogue between stakeholders and encouraging OER integration in our teaching practices,” says de Araujo. “Being able to implement OERs, whether it is a textbook chapter or an ancillary resource to review course content, can be one solution to help alleviate cost challenges, enabling students to freely revisit course material, fostering lifelong learning for all stakeholders.”

Quail adds, “Being an eCampusOntario OER Ranger has provided me with the opportunity to build my network of open education advocates across Ontario, while also co-creating events at York University with my fellow ranger to support faculty, staff and student engagement with open educational practices.”

As York University continues to champion OER and open educational practices, it exemplifies its commitment to accessible and inclusive education, paving the way for innovative pedagogy and community-driven learning initiatives.

York community working together to achieve UN SDGs

York University's Las Nubes EcoCampus

In response to global challenges like climate change, pandemics, inequality and political polarization, York University continues to advance positive change through the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) with innovative thinking, groundbreaking projects and meaningful collaborations.

Introduced in 2015, the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development outlines 17 interconnected SDGs aimed at addressing global social, economic, and environmental issues to promote the well-being of all people and the planet.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
The 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

York’s University Academic Plan, which was launched in 2020, includes a commitment to enhance the University’s contributions to the SDGs. Notably, the University’s achievements in advancing the SDGs were recognized in the 2023 Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, where York was positioned among the top 40 universities globally. York placed in the top 100 in nine SDGs, with a strong standing in the following categories:

  • SDG 1: No Poverty (21st in the world);
  • SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities (25th in the world); and
  • SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities (12th in the world).

“York’s third and most recent annual report on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals demonstrates how we are bringing positive change to communities around the world,” said Lisa Philipps, provost and vice-president academic. “Our community has demonstrated once again why our partnerships, research and academic innovation are at the centre of our success as a leading Canadian university dedicated to building a better future.”

York has prioritized ethical research practices by establishing the first wholly autonomous Indigenous Research Ethics Board at a Canadian post-secondary institution. This initiative, which addresses SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, reaffirms York’s commitment to decolonizing research methodologies and amplifying Indigenous voices and perspectives in academic discourse. Indigenous knowledge is also being recognized in the context of municipal climate solutions through the creation of a Climate Change Solutions Park in the town of Penetaguishene, Ont., which is led by Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change Professor José Etcheverry.

For students, organizations like the SDG Student Hub facilitate learning and engagement with the SDGs. Events such as York Capstone Day provide platforms for students to present sustainable solutions to societal challenges.

The University is celebrating these accomplishments and more during SDG Week Canada from March 4 to 8, featuring workshops, panels, and other interactive programming to increase awareness of and engagement with the 17 SDGs. Learn more about York’s progress on the UN SDGs by visiting York’s SDG Week website and following the University on social media.

Lassonde accelerates green mobility revolution with electric cars

SARIT vehicles on York's Keele Campus with Frank Stronach
SARIT vehicles on York’s Keele Campus with Frank Stronach

In the 18 months since a prototype of a tiny, three-wheeled electric commuter car took a first test drive at York University, much progress has been made in driving the vehicle to the forefront of the green revolution in urban transportation.

Arundhati Kandan Ramdas
Arundhati Kandan Ramdas

Arundhati Kandan Ramdas, mobility project manager at Lassonde School of Engineering, reports that the mini car known as SARIT (safe, affordable, reliable, innovative transit vehicle) is now in production, harnessing some of the ideas and new technologies developed soon after it arrived on York’s Keele Campus in 2022 for intensive rounds of study.

“We have successfully tested and integrated AI-powered vision systems for pedestrian detection into the SARIT, which will allow us to address potential concerns about pedestrian collisions, and to deploy the vehicle in popular Toronto locations, such as the Toronto Zoo, Exhibition Place and the new Markham Demonstration Zone, where York is a partner,” Ramdas says.

University researchers also added trailers to the SARIT to facilitate cargo transportation of everything from parcels to food, and fertilizer for agriculture.

“As well, we are deploying keyless entry for ignition to enable vehicles to be more easily shared, replacing the traditional key with an app for a smartphone,” she adds.

SARIT vehicle
SARIT vehicle

Initiated by Canadian automotive maverick Frank Stronach (his Magna International company in Aurora, Ont., designed the prototype), the SARIT project epitomizes York University’s “living lab” concept, serving as a vital testing ground for sustainable transportation solutions.

A former York governor, Stronach contributed $100,000 to develop the SARIT as a next-generation vehicle.

“I chose York University because its living lab and entrepreneurial mandates are perfectly aligned with SARIT’s objective to revolutionize the personal transportation space,” Stronach said at the time in an interview with The York University Magazine.

Stronach’s significant investment in the SARIT initiative underscores a shared commitment to sustainability and innovation. His generous donation will drive ongoing research, development and testing of SARIT electric vehicle prototypes, cementing York’s position as a trailblazer in sustainable urban mobility.

The SARIT’s top speed of 32 kilometres per hour makes it ideal for commuting – it’s safer and more comfortable than alternatives such as e-bikes. It also costs less than standard electric vehicles, with operating, insurance and electricity costs averaging under $300 per year, Ramdas says.

“The SARIT offers a unique solution to the challenges of converting to zero-emission vehicles, providing a variety of single-use and share-use solutions that enhance mobility and reduce transportation costs with zero emissions.”

Looking ahead, SARIT’s expansion involves forming partnerships to address mobility challenges and showcasing its effectiveness and environmental benefits at various community events. An entrepreneurial challenge to be launched at the University will also aim to leverage SARIT’s mobility capabilities for creating unique ventures, fostering innovation and sustainability.

“We are excited to start to see how the ideas and technologies we have been working on at York lead to commercial success,” Ramdas says.

York prof leads groundbreaking research on green hydrogen

Modern city and environmental technology concept

York University’s commitment to sustainability and innovation takes a significant leap forward with Professor Hany Farag’s pioneering work on green hydrogen integration.

As a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science at the Lassonde School of Engineering, Farag is spearheading efforts to revolutionize Ontario’s energy landscape.

As previously reported, Farag has been tapped to receive funds from a new initiative to revamp Ontario’s energy system.

Hany Farag
Hany Farag

The newly created Hydrogen Innovation Fund, a funding initiative administered by the Independent Electricity System Operator, will invest more than $15 million to help integrate hydrogen into Ontario’s clean electricity system over the next three years. Farag is among the first group of researchers to successfully attain this funding.

A York Research Chair in Integrated Smart Energy Grids, Farag will use government support to advance the work he does at York’s Smart Grid Research Lab, which aims to seamlessly integrate green hydrogen resources into electricity systems to decarbonize not only the power grid but also hard-to-abate sectors such as heavy-duty vehicles, fertilizers and steelmaking.

In collaboration with Alectra Utilities, Bruce County, York University Facilities Services and other industry partners, Farag plans to investigate the implementation of green hydrogen plants (GHPs) across Ontario. Addressing the lack of infrastructure to support electricity and hydrogen integration, his research project will look to optimize GHP design and integration into Ontario’s power systems.

Farag’s scientific inquiry dovetails with York University’s brand message of shaping a sustainable future. York’s leadership in sustainability and its focus on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) find resonance in Farag’s quest to lead the charge in decarbonizing energy production and utilization, particularly advancing SDG 7, which looks to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.”

It’s an important initiative.

Although the production of green hydrogen is currently expensive, with estimates ranging from $4 to $6 per kilogram, it remains pivotal in the quest for achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Across the globe, nations such as Canada and the U.S. are unveiling ambitious hydrogen strategies and investment goals for the forthcoming decades. In a significant move in 2020, the federal government released a hydrogen strategy with the aim of solidifying hydrogen’s role as a cornerstone tool in reaching the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

But while hydrogen holds promise as a potential game changer in combatting climate change, the shift toward “green” hydrogen faces significant hurdles. A 2021 report by the International Energy Agency highlighted a staggering statistic: global hydrogen production emitted 900-million tonnes of carbon dioxide, exceeding emissions from the aviation industry by roughly 180-million tonnes.

This alarming figure underscores the pressing need for a transition away from fossil fuel sources, as highlighted in a recent CBC report.

Although currently not recognized as a low-emissions fuel, there is optimism that hydrogen will emerge as a pivotal player in the fight against climate change. Its potential lies in serving as a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels in various sectors such as power generation, home heating and transportation – an area where Farag’s expertise shines through.

“In the Smart Grid Research Lab, we aim to develop new solutions that facilitate seamless and cost-effective integration of green hydrogen to decarbonize the power grid and hard-to-abate sectors/industries,” Farag says.

“This vision is aligned with York’s efforts to decarbonize our campus, where hydrogen could replace – either fully or partially – the existing natural gas–based co-generators.”

Continuing Studies Building earns gold for sustainable design

School of Continuing Studies Building

Further solidifying York University’s place as an international leader in sustainability, York’s School of Continuing Studies Building has achieved LEED Gold certification from the Canadian Green Building Council. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, is the global building industry’s premier benchmark for sustainability.

School of Continuing Studies Building
School of Continuing Studies Building exterior.

The six-story, 9,012-square-metre, 50-classroom building, which opened last spring at 68 The Pond Road on York’s Keele Campus, was designed by global architecture firm Perkins&Will, led by architects Safdar Abidi and Andrew Frontini. Its twisted design is said to symbolize the school’s twist on the traditional mission of continuing studies – that is, to solve Canada’s most pressing labour challenges by connecting employers to a highly skilled talent pool through innovative program offerings.

“Our stunning, architecturally twisted learning facility emphasizes sustainable practices, safeguards the environment and lowers operating costs,” said Christine Brooks-Cappadocia, assistant vice-president, Continuing Studies. “This purposeful design, with its abundant natural light and other innovative features, is welcoming and promotes a healthy atmosphere so we can focus on what matters most: excellence in programming and a vibrant community for student interactions.”

Some of the building’s most notable environmental features include: a self-generating heat recovery system; an infrastructure-ready, solar-powered water heater; a high-performing façade system for weather resistance; and daylight harvesting to offset electric lighting requirements. The building is believed to be well positioned to achieve net-zero emissions in the future due to its low energy consumption and ability to accommodate solar photovoltaic panels that convert sunlight into electricity.

But contrary to popular belief, LEED is not only about energy-efficient design. It also considers occupant wellness, an area where the School of Continuing Studies Building focused much attention. Designed with the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion in mind, the building houses a lactation room for nursing mothers and a payer room, plus guide rails, automated doors, standing desks, screens for the visually impaired, elevators and large, wheelchair accessible hallways.

“LEED is a comprehensive sustainability objective,” explained Norm Hawton, director of design and construction for Facilities Services at York, “ranging from site selection and recycling of materials to designing for energy performance, minimizing waste, encouraging wellness – from daylighting to healthy commuting, by providing bicycle racks and showers – and thinking holistically about how this building will contribute to a sustainable lifestyle.”

According to Hawton, the LEED Gold certification could not have been achieved without the contributions of the School of Continuing Studies students, instructors and staff who were instrumental to both the scoping and design phases of the project, the University administrators, consultants, and construction and design teams.

“It was the collaborative participation by all throughout the project, from the initial building concept through to successful operations supporting continuing education, that led to LEED quantify the success of the School of Continuing Studies Building in this way,” he said.

In addition to this new sustainability certification, the building has also been recognized for its interior design achievements. Last October, the Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario (ARIDO) named it one of the most vibrant, innovative and inspiring educational spaces of the year – a true testament to York’s visionary leadership in the higher-education building space.

York conference inspires next generation of environmentalists

Change Your World conference 2024 team. Photo credit: Daniel Horawski

With news of environmental crises coming at us at an increasingly alarming rate, it can be easy to dwell on the doom and gloom of it all. York University’s Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) is doing its part to prevent that with its annual conference, Change Your World, which aims to empower Ontario’s youth to be the next generation of global changemakers.

Last week, some 500 Ontario high-school students and their teachers from more than 25 schools gathered in Vari Hall on York’s Keele Campus for the conference, where they spent the day learning how they can make a sustainable and equitable difference in the world – and its future – through a series of activities and workshops hosted in partnership with environmental and community partners from across the province.

Change Your World conference attendees gathered in Vari Hall. Photo by Daniel Horawski.

“At a time when there is a great deal of despair and ‘eco-anxiety’ concerning the state of the planet, it was inspiring to see young people coming together as active citizens to envision a different future,” said Philip Kelly, interim dean of EUC. “Connecting schools and environmentally-focused organizations for thoughtful discussions through events like Change Your World is an important role for the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change in our wider community.”

Pictured, left to right: keynote speaker Joanne Huy, EUC Interim Dean Philip Kelly, keynote speaker Alicia Richins. Photo by Daniel Horawski.

Students began the day by hearing from the conference’s keynote speakers, beginning with Interim Dean Kelly and ending with alumna Alicia Richins, director of strategy and governance for youth sustainability leadership organization Leading Change Canada and creator of multimedia platform the Climateverse.

Richins challenged the audience to consider their passions when choosing what change they should focus on and encouraged them to boldly share ideas, work collaboratively and never give up on their goals to make positive change.

“This annual event is all about showcasing ways youth can lead the change we need in our communities and around the world,” said Lily Piccone, strategic enrolment and communications officer at EUC and Change Your World conference co-ordinator. “Through inspiring keynote speakers, like our very own YU alumni Alicia and Joanne, and our community partners, the students can see local citizens that have turned their passion into a profession and are making positive change for people and the planet”

Toronto-based singer-songwriter and climate activist Brighid Fry performed at the 2024 Change Your World conference.

The students were then able to let their interests guide them by choosing two breakout sessions to participate in from a variety of offerings, including: a workshop on how to build resiliency in the face of anxiety about the future; a giant, immersive board game about power, peace and the planet; hands-on time with wind turbine models and solar panels; a tree identification walk; talks on green infrastructure, climate futurism, the importance of wetlands; and much more.

Following their lunch break, participants were treated to a special guest performance by Toronto-based singer-songwriter and climate activist Brighid Fry, recognized as one of the Top 25 under 25 by non-profit organization the Starfish Canada for her work on sustainability in the music industry. Students wrapped up their day of immersive learning with another workshop and enjoyed one final keynote address by community engagement professional and York alumna Joanne Huy, who shared her passion for transforming lives and communities through learning experiences and making local change in the York University and Jane-and-Finch communities.

Watch the video recap of the day’s events below:

For more information about the annual conference, visit the Change Your World website.

One Fare Program to launch Feb. 26

Student walking away from subway on York University Keele Campus

The government of Ontario has partnered with Greater Toronto Area transit providers to make getting to campus more accessible and affordable by integrating fares across systems.

Starting on Feb. 26, transit customers paying with a PRESTO card, PRESTO in Google Wallet, debit or credit card (physical or in a mobile wallet) will be able to transfer for free between the TTC, Brampton Transit, Durham Region Transit, MiWay and York Region Transit, due to Ontario’s new One Fare Program. Also, TTC customers paying single-ride fares connecting to and from GO Transit will benefit from a fare discount, making their TTC fare free.

“York University commends the Ontario government for eliminating the need for double fares by creating a more integrated fare system,” said York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton. “The new One Fare Program will have a significant impact on our community, as over 74 per cent of our students, and most of our faculty and staff, commute to campus via GO Transit as well as the two subway stations on our Keele Campus. An integrated fare system will not only create a more affordable, accessible and efficient transportation network but also continue to provide a sustainable transportation option that will help to reduce our community’s carbon footprint.”

Metrolinx will be on the Keele Campus for a community engagement event on Monday, Feb. 26 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Vari Hall to discuss the new One Fare Program and the in-progress Finch West Light Rail Transit (LRT) line.

For more information on PRESTO, the electronic fare payment system available across 11 transit agencies in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area and Ottawa, and how to obtain a PRESTO card, visit PRESTOcard.ca.