Shaping the future of sustainable cities

Dr. Steven N. Liss
Vice-President, Research and Innovation
Ryerson University

Unprecedented expansion of our cities and population requires a bold vision to answer complex problems through innovative and impactful solutions. Uniquely positioned at the core of Canada’s largest, most dynamic urban centre, Ryerson University is taking a strong leadership role in answering today’s challenges while planning ahead for the sustainable cities of the future.

Urban energy, clean water, transportation and logistics, immigration and integration, sustainable housing, inclusive democratic engagement of our diverse communities – all aspects of city building can be addressed through robust research. Ryerson researchers go beyond the kind of inward-facing planning that benefits only the immediate city and its current population. They know that their thinking must be aspirational and visionary in order to position urban hubs within the much larger global ecosystem.

Ryerson researchers are exploring ways to optimize existing technologies, improve energy efficiency and create alternative energy resources. Director of the Centre for Urban Energy here at Ryerson, Bala Venkatesh, is transforming Canada’s electric power systems by looking at large-scale renewable energy and energy storage technologies. As the head of NEST, a recently formed network of industry partners, government agencies and researchers from 15 universities across Canada, he is helping make Canada a world leader in energy storage.

Ryerson researchers are at the forefront of critical efforts to establish efficient, safe and accessible transit systems. Our award-winning International Hyperloop Team has created a prototype of their transit idea of the future: a new high-speed ground transportation system that sends pods through near-vacuum tunnels at speeds of 970 km/h, the equivalent of travelling from Toronto to Montreal in 35 minutes. Bilal Farooq, Canada Research Chair in Disruptive Transportation Technologies and Services, is developing a system that would monitor traffic and safely direct autonomous vehicles to the fastest routes.

Building the cities of tomorrow requires thoughtful, ecologically responsible design that aligns with the needs and habits of our residents. We are investigating the creation of new building materials that enable reduced greenhouse gas emissions; as well as analyses of urban space and land use. The interdisciplinary team of Alan Fung and Cheryl Atkinson from the fields of engineering and architecture, together with entrepreneurship and business management researcher Philip Walsh, is reaching for the highest goals of low-carbon-footprint, single-family dwellings through ZEROHouse. Architecture pro-fessor Jennifer McArthur is leveraging digital technologies such as machine learning to improve the performance of existing buildings, bolstering occupant health and productivity.

Healthy cities depend on healthy urban water strategies that include conservation and management policy on a municipal and global level. Ryerson Urban Water affiliate scientist Claire Oswald investigates the cumulative impact of climate and land use on our watersheds, and researcher Carolyn Johns is advancing water policy on a local, national and global level. These researchers, together with other Ryerson faculty, are at the forefront of conducting research that informs public health and protects drinking water sources, water quantity and water quality.

We approach complex urban social challenges using the strengths of collaboration, diversity and inclusion. The Yellowhead Institute, the first Indigenous policy think tank in Canada, focuses on policies related to land and governance while training the next generation of First Nation advocates. At the Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement, Harald Bauder and Usha George analyze immigration and settlement issues, from policy to the integration trajectories of Canada’s newcomers. The newly inaugurated Jarislowsky Chair in Democracy provides a forum for discussion and debate about democracy at this critical moment in its evolution.

By prioritizing investments in research and innovation, we can continue to support the tools needed to enrich the health and prosperity of our communities. Ryerson’s forward-looking researchers are addressing tomorrow’s problems today. Their work exemplifies why Canada is a role model to the world in creating stronger and more sustainable cities.