How can we ensure our cities are livable, inclusive and sustainable? Each of these attributes is a must-have for future urban spaces and each has to be considered in decisions shaping their design and development.
More than two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, and rapid urbanization at a time of accelerating climate change poses complex challenges. For finding effective solutions, a collaborative approach is required, says Dr. Heather Campbell, director of the School of Community and Regional Planning at UBC.
“Many of the problems we are confronting today don’t fit into neat categories. They are not just health, transportation or housing problems,” she says. “They are all connected, so we need an appropriate framework that allows us to work across professional and disciplinary boundaries.”
The ability to draw on expertise from diverse fields like planning, nursing, architecture and landscape architecture, and engineering enables UBC’s Faculty of Applied Science to come up with comprehensive solutions, says Dr. Campbell. “It’s an environment where different kinds of knowledge are respected and different disciplines help to inform each other. This also allows us to work effectively with non-academic partners in communities, business or government to translate knowledge into action.”
And UBC, a municipality in its own right, can go further than just come up with solutions – it can test them on campus, says Kelly Best, special projects manager, Research and Industry Partnership, UBC Faculty of Applied Science. “We call it a living lab, where we apply and trial our research. By testing out how different approaches can be scaled up, we essentially de-risk their implementation for communities.”
An example is a new research project on sustainable buildings, where researchers in architecture, engineering and data science will work together with campus operations to build the world’s largest net-zero building at UBC. “This $42-million, six-storey residential building will use leading-edge passive house design in addition to built-in sensors to monitor the performance of the building’s energy,” says Dr. Adam Rysanek, assistant professor in UBC’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, who is leading the project.
The carbon footprint of buildings currently contributes about 17 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, and the project will help to inform policy-makers on the best approaches to promoting the energy efficiency and reducing the climate impacts related to buildings.
In a project with the City of Richmond, Dr. Christine Chen, assistant professor in UBC’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is working with city engineers to develop strategies to improve urban resilience by operating the sanitary pumping station loads in co-ordination with distributed energy resources, including renewable energy generation and energy storage.
“Sustained operation of sanitary pumping stations in Richmond is critical to the health and safety of its residents, and distributed energy resources, such as rooftop solar, small wind and energy storage, are expected to gradually but widely displace conventional centralized fossil fuel-based electricity generation,” says Dr. Chen.
Many of the problems we are confronting today don’t fit into neat categories. They are not just health, transportation or housing problems. They are all connected.”— Dr. Heather Campbell, director of the School of Community and Regional Planning at UBC
Beyond outcomes for the environment, every project’s implication for urban well-being also needs to be considered. “The challenge is to turn our knowledge and expertise into effective approaches that advance issues like social connection, inclusion and health,” says Dr. Campbell, who believes the impact of the technologies that shape our cities has to be measured by how much they benefit the community as a whole rather than just a privileged few.
The issues of inclusion and health of some of the most vulnerable people are at the core of the research of Dr. Elizabeth Saewyc, director of the UBC School of Nursing at UBC, which focuses on the health issues of youth, with a particular emphasis on how stigma, violence and trauma affect adolescent health and risk behaviours, and the environmental assets and protective factors that foster resilience among vulnerable young people.
“These populations include gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and Two Spirit teens, homeless and runaway youth, sexually abused and sexually exploited adolescents, youth in custody, immigrant and refugee youth, and Indigenous young people,” she says. “Marginalized youth are often targeted by stigma and violence, which can fundamentally influence their health and development, as well as their place in society.”
Health is influenced far more by where you live, work, learn and play, instead of just access to health care, believes Dr. Saewyc. “Our research with young people helps to identify what works to promote their health within their families, schools and communities.”
It is due to such investigations that the School of Nursing is nationally and internationally recognized for research that improves health outcomes of diverse socio-economic and demographic groups across Canada.
Research excellence across disciplines at UBC has not gone unnoticed, says Ms. Best. In the new university rankings by The Times Higher Education, UBC placed number one in the world for taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts, and number one in Canada for making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
Dr. Walter Mérida, associate dean, Research and Industrial Partnerships at the UBC Faculty of Applied Science, says that the university is also fully engaged in a global discourse that explores possible pathways for the world’s megacities to play an increasingly prominent role in addressing climate change. “At the 2018 COP in Bonn, strong voices made the case for enabling cities to access financial instruments that, until recently, have only been accessible to central governments,” he says. “Cities are the drivers of global economic growth, and simultaneously, they are leading our global action on climate change.”
He adds that the UBC Faculty of Applied Science has organized an event in Hong Kong to further this discussion (www.alumni.ubc.ca/event/smart-cities-hong-kong).
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