The School of Cities Student Academy, a tri-campus platform for U of T students interested in learning about city-planning and urban development, hosted a symposium last Friday to discuss urban issues and challenges.

The School of Cities Student Academy & Fellows Symposium talked about inequality within cities, climate change, smart cities, and health.

The School of Cities Student Academy, which serves as the tri-campus interdisciplinary academic hub for “urban-focused researchers to explore and address complex urban challenges,” sought out 20 undergraduate and graduate students earlier this year to present projects that combat unique challenges plaguing urban cities.

These students were anointed with the School of Cities Student Academy’s Student Fellowship Award and received a stipend of $2,000 that went towards their research efforts.

Rebecca Beaulne-Stuebing, a Ph.D. student at U of T for Social Justice Education and Indigenous Health, spoke of her work in creating a medicine library, a collection of Indigenous herbal plants, and building a network of Indigenous people who want to learn about planting Indigenous plants in the city.

A large part of her presentation focused on the deprivation of Indigenous people to their connection with Indigenous plants. In addition, she condemned the Western notion of tobacco as a negative drug that disregards its medicinal roots. According to Beaulne-Steubing, many of these Indigenous plants are extremely nutritious and can grow in adverse conditions, including concrete. She ended her presentation with a call for greater resources to be dedicated to supporting her efforts in urban Indigenous gardening.

Mohamed Ali, a fourth-year undergraduate student at Victoria College, connected the “intersections between the climate crisis and urbanization in Nairobi [Kenya].”

Ali reported that the government of Kenya has made high targets with renewable infrastructure, but they are hampered by a lack of state capacity to accomplish those targets. In addition, Ali stated that the cities had inherent inequalities which limited the country’s response.

The slashing of agriculture subsidies in addition to land grabbing has caused greater urbanization and income inequality. Many of the country’s green resources are unevenly distributed with the upper class who are more able to enjoy Nairobi’s national park than displaced low-income farmers.

Ramz Aziz, a fourth-year JD/MBA student at U of T, focused on the development of equity in smart cities. He defined smart cities as a centre in which “everyone is connected” and “new wave technologies are all integrated with each other.”

However, a conflict arises in respect to the foundations of these cities: the use of data. According to Aziz, many private institutions are not as focused on inclusion in cities but rather “using data for economic outcomes.”

Aziz said that many of “the technologies are being developed in higher income areas,” to the detriment of lower income areas. He highlighted a survey that shows only “30 per cent of entrepreneurs have thought about accessibility while developing their products.”

Aziz then explained the need for cities to certify smart city technology. Such certifications would include ensuring that equality is respected and biases in software are eliminated.

Linxi Mytkolli, a Master’s student in Sustainability Management here at UTM, spoke of urban health. She called for an evaluation of the Canadian Healthcare system. In addition, she declared that youth can “help build sustainable and healthy communities in Canada.” 

“The works of the students are impressive,” said Professor Marieme Lo, Director of the UTSG African Studies Program and Associate Director of Education at the School of Cities Student Academy.

Lo stated that the 2019-2020 student fellows will continue to be in contact with the School of Cities Student Academy and will be called for continued student engagement in Urban Research.

The application deadline for the Student Fellowship Award 2020-2021 is November 5 at 9:00 p.m.

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