UTS humanities teacher hopes to inject urban studies into Ontario curriculum
The curriculum taught in public schools across Ontario covers everything from the Canadian Shield to the formation of cumulus clouds, but covers very little regarding the urban landscape in which 81 per cent of Canadians live.
“It seems crazy to me that the city, everybody lives there, everyone is affected by what happens in the city, but we don’t learn about how it gets built,” said Craig Cal, urban planner at urban design firm, Urban Strategies.
Maximum City, the brainchild of humanities teacher Josh Fullan, is a summer program in urban design for high school students, with the goal of injecting urban planning curriculum into the bloodstream of Toronto schools.
According to Human Resources and Skill Development Canada, as of 2011, more than 27 million Canadians live in urban areas. Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, make up one-third of Canada’s population. Yet the curriculum laid out by the Ontario Ministry of Education does not educate students about the inner workings of the municipalities the vast majority of Canadians call home.
“This kind of curriculum just doesn’t exist right now,” said Fullan.
“If we want to prepare students to live, and lead, in cities sustainably and optimally, we must give them the skills and the knowledge to do that. Students are very eager to tackle this kind of curriculum. They are very engaged and it is very relevant to them.”
Rather than spend their summers wasting away in front of the PlayStation, students in the Maximum City program tackle a variety of urban topics and issues, guided by experts in urban design, planning, and architecture.
The experts cover everything from bicycle accessibility on Bloor Street to the unique architectural design of buildings in the Annex.
“One of the most engaging and exciting days of the program last year was the transit module. Transit is an issue that students are hugely connected to because they are major stakeholders,” he said.
“They use it very heavily and they are not really involved in any of the planning conversation, so when we have experts come in and talk to them about transit it’s a very lively discussion.”
In day nine of the 10 day program, the students of Maximum City were presented with a design challenge: to redesign a block around the University of Toronto, bordered by Spadina, Bloor, Huron and Washington streets.
“We’ve created this fictional scenario for the students which basically says that the university, which owns that entire site, has issued a request for proposals. They are looking for ideas to revitalize this underperforming site. Each team has to come up with a sustainable solution for the site. That means it has to perform better environmentally, economically, and socially,” he said.
The students enrolled in Maximum City come from all parts of the GTA, from Scarborough to Mississauga. Many are students at the University of Toronto Schools (UTS, 371 Bloor St. W.).
“After these two weeks I realized how much you can actually do to make Toronto a better city,” said Alisha Atri, 14, UTS student.
“If you just bring a community together it can become safer, if you even add lamps to a street, simple things like that can make streets safer.”
The program has made great headway in reaching a wider audience for its curriculum.
“The University of Toronto Schools has [given the] green-light for a new course next year that will be taught to a cohort of 110 students at UTS throughout the school year. It’s basically an amalgam of geography, civics, and Maximum City curriculum,” said Fullan.
“That was always kind of the goal, not just to reach an audience of 20 or 30 students in the summer, but to reach a broader audience. It remains to be seen if they carry through and teach it, but there is certainly some interest, not just at our school, but at other schools, in teaching the curriculum.”