Media Releases

U of T Cities Podcast Ep. 3 Building Sustainable Cities

October 20, 2014

The future of Toronto’s economy, transportation and environment

In the third episode of this minis­eries, U of T Cities fea­tures Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to experts work­ing to build more sus­tain­able cities in the realms of envi­ron­ment, infra­struc­ture and econ­o­my. Learn more

Land­scape archi­tec­ture pro­fes­sor Liat Mar­go­lis describes her work on green roofs and its impli­ca­tions for emer­gency man­age­ment, ener­gy use and reviv­ing the bee pop­u­la­tion; Richard Som­mer, dean of the Daniels Fac­ul­ty of Archi­tec­ture, Land­scape and Design explains an enlight­ened vision for tran­sit; and inno­va­tion pol­i­cy expert David Wolfe, who teach­es at U of T’s Mis­sis­sauga cam­pus as well as the Munk School of Glob­al Affairs, describes the future of Toron­to’s econ­o­my as a team sport. Pre­vi­ous episodes and more at .


[Sting: This is the U of T Cities pod­cast. Brought to you by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to]

[Sounds of qui­et city street]

(Music up)

Bri­an­na: What does sus­tain­abil­i­ty sound like? Is it the sound of a cof­fee cup being recy­cled? Or the sound of some­one walk­ing to work instead of tak­ing the car?


[Sound of con­struc­tion]

Sus­tain­abil­i­ty sounds like this. Like progress.

[Music in]

Because it’s the only log­i­cal way to build the streets we dri­ve on, the homes we live in, the ways we get our elec­tric­i­ty.

Days of sus­tain­abil­i­ty as a niche issue are long gone.

Now it’s con­struc­tion, it’s the econ­o­my, it’s the qual­i­ty dri­ving devel­op­ment in our city.

This is the U of T Cities pod­cast, I’m Bri­an­na Gold­berg.

In the first two episodes of this minis­eries we heard from U of T researchers and entre­pre­neurs build­ing the future of traf­fic and tran­sit in Toron­to – both clear elec­tion flash­points.

Build­ing a sus­tain­able city has not been a key plat­form for any of the can­di­dates.

And yet, it’s there, implic­it­ly, bub­bling up behind every­thing else they’re promis­ing. How else could you make a tran­sit plan, a garbage col­lec­tion scheme, a vision for the city, if not sus­tain­ably?

Today you’ll hear from Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to experts whose work is help­ing to build a more sus­tain­able city, regard­less of who gets the most votes on Octo­ber 27.

Lat­er this episode, we’ll hear more from Richard Som­mer. He’s the dean of U of T’s Daniels Fac­ul­ty of Archi­tec­ture, Land­scape and Design. In the pre­vi­ous pod­cast, he shared a new vision for tran­sit hubs in the out­er GTA. And today we’ll hear a bit more about why design­ing an inte­grat­ed – pos­si­bly envi­ron­men­tal­ly respon­sive- tran­sit plan for Toron­to is key to the city’s suc­cess.


We’ll also check in with Pro­fes­sor David Wolfe, from U of T’s Mis­sis­sauga cam­pus and the Munk School of Glob­al Affairs. He’ll explain why Toron­to has to get on board with a dra­mat­ic re-brand­ing for our econ­o­my to stand a chance.

But first, we’re going to look up, way up, as we get our hands dirty and go a bit green.

My name is Liat Mar­go­lis, I research all sorts of green build­ing tech­nolo­gies like green roofs, green walls and solar ener­gy.

Green roofs. We’re talk­ing about veg­e­ta­tion on tops of con­dos and tow­ers. A few years ago, the City of Toron­to made them manda­to­ry for all new build­ings over a cer­tain size.

And so Mar­go­lis and her team at the Daniels Fac­ul­ty of Archi­tec­ture, Land­scape and Design are test­ing dif­fer­ent ver­sions of them on the roof of the Daniels build­ing on Col­lege Street.

…to fig­ure out what could opti­mize things like storm-water man­age­ment, so can we increase the reten­tion capac­i­ty of green roofs so that they func­tion in storm events and they retain the water and alle­vi­ate things like flood­ing, can we opti­mize the evap­o­ra­tive cool­ing effect to low­er ambi­ent tem­per­a­ture and affect ener­gy usage, such as cool­ing in the sum­mer­time with air con­di­tion­ers. So those are the kinds of ques­tions and they oper­ate on a very micro-scale, but they effect macro-issues on a region­al and urban scale in terms of envi­ron­men­tal man­age­ment, and they also have an effect on con­struc­tion stan­dards, guide­lines, munic­i­pal stan­dards and the con­struc­tion indus­try.

So it might seem like green roofs are only rel­e­vant to a small sec­tion of Toron­to. But once they opti­mize irri­ga­tion sched­ules, veg­e­ta­tion choic­es, and more, these roofs could affect more than flood man­age­ment or ener­gy use.  They might even save the bees.

[Music out]

You have a loss of these ecosys­tems and diver­si­ty of plants and the corol­lary is a loss of pol­li­na­tor species, and those are crit­i­cal to main­tain­ing the ecosys­tem, not to men­tion agri­cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion and so on. So we’re look­ing at what plants are more attrac­tive, let’s say, to cer­tain bee species.

What is the recep­tion in the build­ing indus­try to ideas like this? Are they kind of dragged kick­ing and scream­ing into green roofs because it’s a pol­i­cy that’s been made or does it seem like they’re actu­al­ly inter­est­ed in the future of this?

Absolute­ly. And I think one of the impor­tant ideas to remem­ber is that sus­tain­abil­i­ty and busi­ness are not at odds with one anoth­er. In oth­er words they absolute­ly need one anoth­er in order for the whole sys­tem to work effec­tive­ly. If you think about it, any sort of new green tech­nol­o­gy is an econ­o­my, it’s man­u­fac­tur­ing, it’s jobs, it’s con­struc­tion, it’s new knowl­edge. So the green roof econ­o­my in North Amer­i­ca has def­i­nite­ly mul­ti­plied by quite a bit. Same with the solar and clean-tech indus­try. I think that the indus­try is very keen on green build­ing tech­nolo­gies. They’re very inter­est­ed in find­ing out what works best because they need to keep up with what’s the lat­est. They have to remain com­pet­i­tive, they also see sus­tain­abil­i­ty as a mar­ket­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty.

What might cities look like 10 or 20 years from now if the kind of green roofs and solar get applied? What might the city of the future look like to you?

Yes­ter­day I saw this pre­sen­ta­tion by an archi­tect from Copen­hagen and they did these kind of new con­fig­u­ra­tions allow­ing traf­fic to oper­ate in the same man­ner and yet inte­grate all sorts of green veg­e­tat­ed com­po­nents on the ground, on roofs, on the side of the build­ings. Not only allow­ing for this kind of new envi­ron­men­tal per­for­mance to be inte­grat­ed into the urban realm but also all of a sud­den open­ing up these new pub­lic spaces and recre­ation­al spaces and a new way of actu­al­ly expe­ri­enc­ing the built envi­ron­ment. So I think a kind of new think­ing where nat­ur­al sys­tems are more inte­grat­ed as a new plan­ning form, as a new urban method, an archi­tec­tur­al method, I see that as not only a way to mit­i­gate the kind of envi­ron­men­tal issues that we’re fac­ing today, and I think that’s an impor­tant dis­tinc­tion to not only think about cli­mate adap­ta­tion, but actu­al­ly the pos­si­bly of inte­grat­ing solu­tions that could mit­i­gate the effects and reverse the kind of neg­a­tive impacts on the envi­ron­ment. Inte­grat­ing nat­ur­al sys­tems into the urban envi­ron­ment is absolute­ly a tool and a key aspect of how we can actu­al­ly do that. And at the same time all this opens up oppor­tu­ni­ties for a kind of new social behav­ior, a new social and cul­tur­al inter­ac­tion with our cities. We’re some­what famil­iar with it because we know what it’s like to be in parks and on water­fronts and so on. But a lot more of that. So I’m sort of imag­in­ing a new kind of cul­ture around cities fol­low­ing this kind of inte­gra­tion more land­scape.

[Music in]

That was Liat Mar­go­lis. She’s an assis­tant pro­fes­sor at the Daniels Fac­ul­ty of Archi­tec­ture, Land­scape and Design. To learn more, head to .

Lat­er in the pod­cast, we’ll get a sneak peek at what a suc­cess­ful Toron­to econ­o­my might look like in 10 years – if the city gets brave enough to start play­ing as part of a region­al team.

But first, an inte­grat­ed tran­sit sys­tem that could help its rid­ers become their best selves. Plan­ning for the sus­tain­abil­i­ty of Toronto’s trans­porta­tion and its cit­i­zens…


Last episode, we heard from Dean Richard Som­mer. He talked about the Daniels faculty’s joint project with Metrolinx, as they imag­ined a new kind of tran­sit expe­ri­ence for the out­er GTA in a book called Huburbs: Tran­sit and Urban­ism in the Greater Toron­to Hamil­ton Area.

But he says that rethink­ing tran­sit in the city and its out­er reach­es is about much more than just mov­ing peo­ple from A to B.


If you look at great metro sys­tems and great sys­tems in oth­er parts of the world, some­times they are very mon­u­men­tal and sin­gu­lar in their qual­i­ty. We haven’t even been able to have this dis­cus­sion in Toron­to because it’s always sub­ways or sur­face rail with­out ask­ing any big­ger ques­tions about what kind of sys­tem we’re try­ing to build, who we’re build­ing it for, or what the expe­ri­ence of it is like, or what the big­ger pic­ture looks like. It’s real­ly been a very, very low lev­el debate around is it light rail, bus­es or sub­ways. And I think that’s been a bit of a dis­trac­tion from ask­ing what kind of expe­ri­ence do you want to con­struct for our cit­i­zens as they move through the city, and not just for peo­ple in the down­town.

Som­mer is work­ing to imag­ine a tran­sit plan that could offer a new way of inter­act­ing with our world.

If you have to change your form of tran­sit 3 times to get to work there is already the ner­vous­ness about the amount of time it takes and being late and depend­ing on the weath­er it can real­ly be dis­heart­en­ing on a dai­ly basis. So one of the things we thought about, to get back to the Huburbs Project is, devel­op­ing a more nim­ble form of tran­sit infra­struc­ture that might even change the degree of open­ness depend­ing on the sea­son. We have a need to be pro­tect­ed from the weath­er in the mid­dle of the weath­er and there’s much less of a need for that – there may be a need for shade and oth­er things in the sum­mer.

And so the next step is to find a way for Toronto’s tran­sit to strike a bal­ance between prag­ma­tism and pos­si­bil­i­ty.

[music out]

If you grew up in an envi­ron­ment where you only drove and that’s the only way you saw the city, the expe­ri­ence of going some­where and see­ing the city on foot or mov­ing through the city on a bicy­cle can be a rev­e­la­tion. If a city is able to facil­i­tate your being able to go about your every­day life doing, all the bet­ter. Not that many are. I think it has to be in people’s self-inter­est when they real­ize that their life could be improved by cut­ting down on com­mut­ing times or that a bet­ter design and coor­di­na­tion of the sites and net­works of tran­sit can cre­ate a more pleas­ant expe­ri­ence, not just get­ting from here to there, but on the way. These are things that in lots of dif­fer­ent realms peo­ple think about. Peo­ple think about the shop­ping expe­ri­ence and the cre­ation of new retail envi­ron­ments. Uni­ver­si­ties think about the stu­dent expe­ri­ence over the 4 year peri­od. It’s not that dif­fer­ent from…if you think about a city and for some of its cit­i­zens may have to trav­el any­where between 20 min­utes to 2 hours, if you actu­al­ly map the itin­er­ary of that per­son, and think about every­thing from the spaces you’re design­ing to the qual­i­ty of the sig­nage to the way in which the tick­ets and pass­es are inte­grat­ed, that’s going to have an impact on people’s qual­i­ty of life. I think one of the strug­gles we have in Toron­to is it would be great if every­one could ride their bike to work or walk, but it’s a big city and real­ly I think is the case that often the least eco­nom­i­cal­ly advan­taged peo­ple in soci­ety have to trav­el the far­thest to make a liv­ing and to get to work. So we have to real­ly be mind­ful of what their life is like. And as much as we would like to pedes­tri­an­ize every­thing or make the down­town even more live­ly than it is, that’s the big­ger chal­lenge, which is that for peo­ple to suc­ceed they need to be able to move through the city and they need to be able to move through the city in a way which is not dead­en­ing to their spir­it, if you will.

So take every­thing that you are think­ing about with your mod­el­ling research and every­thing you’ve learned in Huburb study and every­thing that you just think about being the Dean of an Archi­tec­ture School, and think of the Port Cred­it trav­el­er 10 years from now, 15 years from now, if all of your hopes come true, what will their tran­sit real­i­ty look like?

It’s a very sim­ply thing. Toron­to is still a lit­tle bit too con­ve­nient to dri­ve in and to move through Toron­to in a car. So our ambi­tion has to be to make the expe­ri­ence, and it’s not just a mat­ter of a con­ve­nience, but the expe­ri­ence and the qual­i­ty of com­mut­ing into the city through tran­sit some­thing which is a bet­ter expe­ri­ence than dri­ving. So one can read, one can shop, one can exer­cise, one can social­ize. Some you can do which is enrich­ing rather than seen as a sac­ri­fice.

[Music in]

That was Richard Som­mer. He’s an archi­tect and Dean of the Daniels Fac­ul­ty of Archi­tec­ture, Land­scape and Design. You can read more, and find a link to his inter­view in the pre­vi­ous episode, at


Liat Mar­go­lis’ green roofs – sound great, and cost mon­ey. Dean Sommer’s rev­o­lu­tion­ized, utopi­an tran­sit sys­tem – sounds great, and is bound to cost a lot of mon­ey.

So how exact­ly would we pay for this enlight­ened, sus­tain­able future city of Toron­to?

David Wolfe is a Pro­fes­sor Polit­i­cal Sci­ence at U of T’s Mis­sis­sauga cam­pus. He’s also part of the Inno­va­tion Pol­i­cy Lab, the Pro­gram on Glob­al­iza­tion and Region­al Inno­va­tion Sys­tems based at the Munk School of Glob­al Affairs.

A lot of his work has looked at how indus­tri­al clus­ters dri­ve economies. Ontario’s for­mer indus­try giants like auto­mo­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing, and even Black­ber­ry, are tee­ter­ing… and Wolfe  is work­ing to help Toron­to — and the region around it – think about new ways to build jobs and com­pa­nies and poli­cies for a sus­tain­able econ­o­my.

He says it’s all about the dig­i­tal. And it’s going to mean giv­ing up Toronto’s inde­pen­dent iden­ti­ty – a lit­tle bit, any­way – as we join forces with oth­er cities fur­ther west along the 401.

[Music out]

There’s soft­ware being devel­oped in Water­loo that can con­tribute to the growth of the finan­cial ser­vices indus­try in the down­town busi­ness core in Toron­to. There are hard­ware wire­less skills at McMas­ter Uni­ver­si­ty in Hamil­ton that played an impor­tant role in the devel­op­ment of the Black­ber­ry. So that both the knowl­edge-base, the research-base in our uni­ver­si­ties, post-sec­ondary insti­tu­tions, the firms are all inter­con­nect­ed in this region, and we need to begin to think of the region with a much broad­er per­spec­tive than we have in the past.

So what would it look like if this region was able to suc­cess­ful­ly brand itself? What’s the best case sce­nario? How do you see that work­ing?

I think there’d be greater recog­ni­tion for us in North Amer­i­ca and glob­al­ly that we are an inte­grat­ed region and that as a region econ­o­my we have great strengths in a num­ber of eco­nom­ic sec­tors, one of the most impor­tant of those is the Infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy or Dig­i­tal Econ­o­my sec­tor. Peo­ple in Water­loo have been push­ing for this recog­ni­tion for awhile. I think Toron­to has been a lit­tle bit slow to get on the band­wag­on. I think a num­ber of peo­ple in Toron­to are start­ing to see the val­ue in doing this and agree with the impor­tance of brand­ing it. Some­body in Ottawa who pub­lish­es a list of the Top 300 Infor­ma­tion Tech­nol­o­gy Firms in Cana­da every year made a call in the sum­mer that we brand this region Ontario’s Dig­i­tal Cor­ri­dor. I think that’s as good a name as any, but I’m hap­py to defer if some­body can come up with a bet­ter name or bet­ter brand for it. But I think we need to start get­ting more atten­tion from dif­fer­ent lev­els of Gov­ern­ment about how to con­tribute to grow­ing and inte­grat­ing the region more effec­tive­ly and brand­ing it inter­na­tion­al­ly.

I under­stand why per­haps small­er regions, like we’re talk­ing St. Catharines, Nia­gara, they of course would be inter­est­ed to buy into this inte­grat­ed brand­ing. But Toron­to it seems to me would have some­thing to lose in that they already have a bit of an estab­lished brand. What do you think it will take for Toron­to to say I want to be looped in the same con­cept and the same idea as Waterloo/Kitchener?

Toronto’s prob­lem is that we have a great brand as a city but we don’t have a dis­tinc­tive brand in par­tic­u­lar eco­nom­ic or indus­tri­al sec­tors. Toron­to is wide­ly rec­og­nized as a finan­cial ser­vices cen­tre, which it is prob­a­bly the 4th largest in North Amer­i­ca. We have a great rep­u­ta­tion as a cen­tre for cre­ative indus­tries, film, tele­vi­sion, broad­cast­ing, huge sources of growth and strength in the Toron­to region. But we don’t have any recog­ni­tion of Toron­to as a dig­i­tal cen­tre. The Infor­ma­tion Tech­nol­o­gy indus­try in Toron­to gets buried and lost in the rest of the broad­er econ­o­my. Every­one knows that the Uni­ver­si­ty of Water­loo has a great Com­put­er Sci­ence Depart­ment and that Google and Microsoft and lots of oth­er com­pa­nies come to Water­loo to recruit from there. But nobody knows that the uni­ver­si­ty of Toronto’s Com­put­er Sci­ence Depart­ment is actu­al­ly ranked high­er in glob­al rank­ings that Waterloo’s, and that our Com­put­er Sci­ence Depart­ment is the high­est ranked Depart­ment inter­na­tion­al­ly of any Depart­ment in the Uni­ver­si­ty. So I think Toron­to has every bit as much to gain as Water­loo does from par­tic­i­pat­ing in this glob­al brand­ing and rais­ing the pro­file for Toron­to as well as the rest of south­west­ern Ontario’s dig­i­tal econ­o­my in terms of glob­al recog­ni­tion.

How do you get there? How do you change opin­ions?

One of the chal­lenges we have in this region is we have a mul­ti­plic­i­ty of eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment and mar­ket­ing orga­ni­za­tions that are all work­ing, some­times togeth­er but often on their own, to mar­ket and brand their own parts of the region. None of them are mar­ket­ing the region and none of them have put a label on the region, and none of them are going out and rep­re­sent­ing the region as a whole on a glob­al scale. I think it’s time for some­body to take the lead. The lead­er­ship might have to come from the Province to bring all of the cities togeth­er and help and sup­port them in cre­at­ing. I know there were seri­ous dis­cus­sions in the Province about 2 years ago about doing this. They fal­tered because some of the var­i­ous orga­ni­za­tions didn’t want to come to the table and give up their own lit­tle sand­box­es. I think it’s time for the Province, once they sort out all of our tran­sit prob­lems, I think it’s time for the Provin­cial Gov­ern­ment to step in and bring all the par­ties in the region togeth­er to the table and say what do we need to do to put the dig­i­tal cor­ri­dor on the map glob­al­ly.

What will this region look like maybe 15 or20 years from now and what needs to hap­pen in addi­tion to Provin­cial sup­port in this mar­ket­ing com­ing togeth­er to make it hap­pen?

In my most opti­mistic moments I think the region will con­tin­ue to grow and thrive and pros­per. We know that it’s very like­ly there will be at least a mil­lion-and-a-half more res­i­dents in the region 15 years from now because we’re absorb­ing at least 100,000 peo­ple a year, just into the GTA. If you take in Hamil­ton, Kitch­en­er, Water­loo, Guelph, Nia­gara there will prob­a­bly be at least 2 mil­lion more. We know we need much bet­ter, much more inte­grat­ed tran­sit across the region to make that many more peo­ple be able to work effec­tive­ly in the region. But also I would hope if we suc­ceed in brand­ing it, we will be able to cre­ate much bet­ter, high­er val­ue-added jobs, high­er income gen­er­at­ing jobs for all of those peo­ple mov­ing into the region and all of the tremen­dous cre­ativ­i­ty that we have going on across the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toronto’s var­i­ous Incu­ba­tors, the ones at Ryer­son, OCAD Uni­ver­si­ty, York Uni­ver­si­ty, Water­loo, those will be gen­er­at­ing tens if not hun­dreds of new firms that will be grow­ing and cre­at­ing employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties for all of our very bright and tal­ent­ed stu­dents.

That was David Wolfe. He teach­es at U of T’s Mis­sis­sauga cam­pus and through the Munk School of Glob­al Affairs. You can learn more about the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to accel­er­a­tors he men­tioned by head­ing to

We’ve fea­tured com­pa­nies that devel­oped with help from U of T accel­er­a­tors in the two pre­vi­ous episodes of this pod­cast.

Lis­ten back to those episodes to learn more about Sou­journ Labs, a com­pa­ny that’s build­ing a human-pow­ered car-bike hybrid… and Vote Com­pass, offer­ing users an online plat­form to fig­ure out which may­oral can­di­date most close­ly aligns with their views.

OTI Lumion­ics is a very sus­tain­ably-dri­ven start­up that devel­oped with help from U of T’s entre­pre­neur­ship sup­ports. Head over to to learn more about their busi­ness. It makes organ­ic LED light­ing more afford­able and effi­cient for archi­tects, inte­ri­or design­ers… and any­one want­i­ng to read a book, using their new con­sumer-ready OLED lamp called aere­light.




From a new­ly brand­ed dig­i­tal econ­o­my to an enlight­ened and envi­ron­men­tal­ly respon­sive tran­sit sys­tem, and green roofs and green walls and a green city sav­ing us from flood­ing – as well as pos­si­bly sav­ing the bees – this is the sus­tain­able future of Toron­to. And it’s hap­pen­ing regard­less of which can­di­date tops the polls next week.

We at the U of T Cities pod­cast were hap­py to bring you these sto­ries in third episode of this series.

To check out pre­vi­ous episodes fea­tur­ing inter­views about arti­fi­cial­ly intel­li­gent traf­fic lights, an upstart alter­na­tive to the TTC, and the secret wish of tran­sit-pol­i­cy expert Eric Miller… just head over to U of T News at .

That’s also where you can find more news and fea­tures on U of T work trans­form­ing cities, entre­pre­neur­ship, health, edu­ca­tion and more.

Please get in touch with any ques­tions or sug­ges­tions for future episodes. You can tweet us at uoft­news . Or send an email to .

Next time on the U of T Cities pod­cast we’ll be think­ing big as we talk about the role of the city with experts includ­ing Richard Flori­da, Patri­cia McCar­ney, and Mer­ic Gertler.

Today we fea­tured  music made avail­able on the Free Music Archive. The artists are Cheese N Pot‑C, Tha Silent Part­ner and The Cus­to­di­an of Records. Also, Jaz­za­fari, Mnag Quad and Cos­mic Ana­log ensem­ble. You can find their work and more at

This pro­gram was pro­duced by myself, Bri­an­na Gold­berg, with help from U of T News edi­tor Jen­nifer Lan­thi­er. Thanks for lis­ten­ing.