The University of Toronto signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the City of Toronto on October 3rd, in an effort to help the city reduce greenhouse gas emissions and become more sustainable through future collaborations between the two parties.

The memorandum marks a revitalized partnership between the university and the city. The document, signed by U of T’s president Meric Gertler and Toronto city manager Peter Wallace, outlines the initiatives and projects that will be supported by both institutions, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions while also engaging the Toronto population at large.

“Toronto and its namesake university provide a perfect illustration of the ways in which the relationship between a post-secondary institution and its host city-region is fundamentally symbiotic; the idea that a strong university helps build a strong city, and vice versa—a strong host city helps a university become even stronger,” stated Gertler in an open letter regarding the MOU.

Among the initiatives of the Memorandum is Future Talks, which aims to engage the city in lowering greenhouse gas emissions through wide-scale public engagement. It wants to focus on creating policies on climate change and sustainability.

Sara Hughes, assistant professor of political science at UTM, is one of the leading figures on the Future Talks initiative. Her team wants to collect information from citizens to see what Torontonians would like the future of Toronto to look like.

“I support the kind of rhetoric we heard from both president Gertler and mayor [John] Tory at the signing ceremony. At a high level, there’s a mutuality between the city and the university that we can take better advantage of. A strong university is good for the city, while at the same time having a vibrant, equitable diverse city is good for the university,” stated Hughes in an interview with The Medium.

“I think what the memorandum of understanding does is, at a minimum, signal that there is a willingness to take on joint projects.”

In regards to Future Talks, Hughes’ role in the project is on the policies that will eventually be implemented. When asked about what sorts of policies are on the table, the professor said that she would like to see “an emphasis on policies that simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address social and economic inequality in the city.”

Future Talks is still in the preliminary stages of research and will be collecting more data from Torontonians before implementing any policies.

Hughes also discussed the ways through which her team hopes to engage the Toronto population through the use of tools such as Metro Quest.

Metro Quest is an online interactive tool that allows organizations to provide the public with details of new initiatives while simultaneously allowing the users to provide feedback on the project.

“The kinds of things we’ve been talking about are exploring minor things like social media, Twitter, Facebook, but there are new, more sophisticated tools. One that we’ve been talking about a lot is Metro Quest, which allows people to play with different scenarios of the future. It can be a really powerful way for people to think about what a more sustainable, low carbon future looks like in Toronto. These can be developed in really sophisticated ways online now and people can access them en masse.”

Hughes also spoke about the role the Mississauga campus will have on the project, stating that UTM undergraduate students will have opportunities to get involved in the research, as well.

“There’s going to be opportunities to do different kinds of research both in the field, in the sense that this is focused around actual community engagement methods, as well as on the policy side,” said Hughes.

The Future Talks initiative is in the process of completing a grant application that will help them work toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Future Talks will know if they will receive funding by April 2018.

A representative from the City of Toronto was unable to respond to The Medium’s request for comment as of press time.

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