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An OCAD University initiative brought kids together (virtually, of course) so they could brainstorm with businesspeople, politicians and Globe and Mail journalists about a COVID-19-safe future

Logan Salandy, middle, took part in a project to imagine better post-COVID-19 living, organized by It’s My Future Toronto. So did Peter O’Mathuna and Adrian Lu, left, and Laith and Blake Wellington and Kealon McGregor, right.Fred Lum and Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Who better to offer ideas for building better communities post-COVID than the kids who will grow up in them? That’s the core of It’s My Future Toronto (IMFTO), a program led by OCAD University to give eight- to 12-year-old BIPOC youth a chance to address racism and brainstorm ideas to boost the Greater Toronto Area’s recovery from the pandemic.

The program came together when Dori Tunstall, OCAD U’s Dean of Design, was appointed to the City of Toronto’s Cultural and Economic Recovery Advisory Group and saw the viewpoint of young people was missing. “I thought they would bring a very interesting perspective, and they’re very open and creative at that age,” Ms. Tunstall said.

IMFTO worked with BIPOC community organizations to recruit the young participants and brought together partners in business and government to give the kids opportunities to share their ideas with local leaders and decision-makers.

The program was conducted online, starting with a Zoom call in January where 17 kids were led through a design and prototyping exercise for their ideas.

Other workshops followed with journalists from The Globe and Mail and creatives from marketing agencies Sid Lee and Juliet, as well as a module on developing public policy that included a video with former Liberal MP Jean Augustine, the first Black woman elected to the House of Commons. The kids took photos and made videos of their prototypes (or even used video games like Minecraft), worked on advertisements for their ideas and wrote up their concepts in their own words – which you can read below.

“The kids already have the answers,” Ms. Tunstall said. “What we’re just trying to do is connect it to a professional language ... so that they can see the connections between what it is that they already do and who they could possibly become.”

“I actually want to be an inventor,” said 11-year-old Peter O’Mathuna, who came up with the idea to use heated sidewalks to clear snow and ice rather than the ubiquitous road salt currently used in the city. “I’d want to invent stuff that is better for the world.”

Fayola Edwards-Wellington, mother of nine-year-old Laith and 11-year-old Blake, said IMFTO has “lit a fire” under the siblings. “Seeing Dori and the other people on the screen that look like them and teaching them, [they think] ‘Wow, I can do that,’” she said.

The IMFTO participants will present their ideas to the City Youth Council of Toronto on May 6, followed by an advertising campaign and fundraising with the Toronto Foundation with the goal to develop their concepts further.

“To hear their inventiveness, their care for community, the environment and their friends and family, it just makes you feel so optimistic about the future,” Ms. Tunstall said.


Watch Adrian Lu explain his concept for portable homeless shelters.

Adrian Lu, 12, shown at home in Newmarket, demonstrates his idea for portable shelters with a model.

Adrian Lu, age 12

Idea: Portable homeless shelters

The COVID-19 pandemic is revealing the heightened risks faced by Toronto’s homeless population.

Homeless people are more likely to get COVID-19 and have complications or be hospitalized, according to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal earlier this year. In this stage of the pandemic, the spread of the deadly disease is a major concern and putting extra strain on social services.

Homeless shelters are very costly to plan and build, and are restricted to the area they are located. Many homeless people have trouble reaching those shelters. This idea will be effective all around the world, but especially in areas with many homeless, such as downtown Toronto. Portable homeless shelters can be implemented anywhere.

In the midst of an illness such as COVID-19, shelters may increase the spread of this pandemic because they are enclosed places.

Portable homeless shelters equipped with attachable wheels can be used to go to places where homeless people may be staying, and could also be used to transport them to larger permanent shelters.

“Instead of the homeless needing to go to the shelter, the shelter goes to them,” explains Adrian Lu, the 12-year-old Grade 7 student who created this idea.


Skip the salt and heat the sidewalks instead to keep them clear of ice: That's Peter O'Mathuna's idea to help make Toronto a better place to live.

Peter O'Mathuna, 11, displays a Lego prototype of his heated sidewalks idea at his Toronto home.Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Peter O’Mathuna, age 11

Idea: Heated sidewalks

Have you noticed the amount of salt on your sidewalks after a snowfall? It’s too much!

In the winter, ice and snow on the sidewalks is dangerous and expensive to clear. The use of salt can also be harmful to animals, plants and the environment.

Salt is used in the colder regions of the world where there is a large amount of snow.

To avoid this, Grade 5 student Peter O’Mathuna designed sidewalks that use pipes filled with hot water to melt the snow instead of salt. This type of sidewalk will reduce the use of salt and save cities money by eliminating the use of snow-removal services and the excessive use of road salt.

St. John’s has looked at using heated sidewalks. Montreal tried to do this in 2015 and Saskatoon in 2017, but both cities abandoned the idea due to cost concerns.

“I don’t want to see any animals eating the salt – it’s so bad for them,” Peter says. “And I feel bad when dog paws are being burned by so much salt on the sidewalks. The City of Toronto should fund this sidewalk idea.”


Logan Salandy, 9, thinks sensors should be put on surfaces like sidewalks to sound an alert when passerby litter.

Logan Salandy, age 9

Idea: Trash sensor

What would you do if trash could talk?

With everything closed during the pandemic, it encouraged my family to go for walks. Each time we went for a walk, I noticed more people were walking, too.

But with this came increased litter.

An August, 2020, report from Toronto’s Infrastructure and Environment Committee says cleaning up and collecting garbage from parks would cost an estimated additional quarter of a million dollars.

The same report says calls about litter and overflowing bins to Toronto’s 311 hotline were the most common complaints about parks and green spaces.

My design idea is a solar-powered, image-sensor alarm that detects when trash is thrown on the ground. This power source produces an imaging sensor that identifies garbage and sounds an alarm within its specific detection zone.

In August, 2019, researchers at the Government Engineering College in India created a cheap and effective system for automatic garbage detection and collection. Their system uses artificial-intelligence algorithms to detect and locate waste in its surroundings, then picks it up with a robotic gripper.

My idea is different from this other solution as it is solar-based, with no electricity costs for the city.

My design solution is a challenge, but I am determined to make it happen. Let’s stop the trash talk.


Kealon McGregor, 9, shows a diagram of the app he designed to monitor and limit excessive screen time.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Kealon McGregor, age 9

Idea: App to monitor screen time

Since COVID-19 hit the world, everyone has been stuck at home. A lot of kids have been on screens. Time spent on computers and phones has increased 185 per cent with an average of 13 hours on a screen every day.

Now, because people can’t see their friends, their solution is to text and FaceTime instead. But all that screen time keeps kids from doing their homework, and as a result, they’re getting poorer grades.

I’ve designed a better way of controlling screen time, so you can focus on more important things than your device – and spend your time in a healthier way.

The Screen Time Stopper app costs $1.50 and can help you set a limit – it will only allow users one hour and 50 minutes of screen time a day.

On the weekends, you can increase the screen time a little bit more. But before you increase your screen time, you’ll need to take a photo of your homework to show that it’s been done.

I came up with the Screen Time Stopper because I noticed that everyone is glued to their screens these days, and I want to make sure we’re using our online time in a healthy way.


Laith Wellington, 9, designed a mobile app to let people know when others are too close.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Laith Wellington, age 9

Idea: Physical-distancing reminder app

A new invention takes the guesswork out of keeping your physical distance during COVID-19.

After observing too many people not keeping distant, or being confused about what a safe distance is, nine-year-old Laith Wellington had an idea.

Laith’s prototype smartphone app, called Safe Space, sounds an alert when people outside of his household get too close.

By using a “beep, beep” noise similar to a reversing truck, Laith believes it will be hard to ignore and sends a clear message that someone is too close.


Blake Wellington, 10, shows a prototype for a dispenser that includes both masks and hand sanitizer.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Blake Wellington, age 10

Idea: Combined mask and sanitizer dispenser

Having a fresh, clean mask on hand is still a challenge even after living with COVID-19 for a year.

But 10-year-old Blake Wellington has a simple idea to provide masks and hand sanitizer at a combined dispenser so there are no excuses.

In a location like Markville Mall in Markham, Ont., Blake’s ‘Mask-a-nater’ machine dispenses individual masks and a dash of sanitizer with the tap of a payment card or smartphone.

In places like schools and hospitals, the Mask-a-nater dispenser would operate free of charge.

Blake Wellington also made a Lego prototype of a way for people to safely visit relatives in hospital via a windowed safe room with a speaker and microphone.

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