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 Launching CityStudio during COVID

Written on November 28, 2022

By Alix Linaker & Natalia Merced

Vancouver, BC, Canada – Two CityStudios in our Network – CityStudio Sault Ste. Marie and CityStudio Durham – launched during the pandemic and are a testament to the positive impact of the CityStudio framework. In this post, we’ll provide highlights from CityStudio Sault Ste. Marie and CityStudio Durham that exemplify the value of bringing together traditionally siloed public institutions to collaborate for multi-stakeholder benefit, while demonstrating the value students bring to tackling environmental and social priorities. 

By uniting municipal governments and post-secondary institutions (PSI) to provide students with for-credit and structured civic engagement opportunities, CityStudio works to support deeper learning and engagement in the education system.  

The relevance of the CityStudio model has become more prominent in the past two and a half years with the continued pandemic highlighting that students need opportunities to have accessible experiential learning and Work Integrated Learning (WIL) opportunities as part of their curricular experience. Providing innovative WIL experiences for students, CityStudios across the network engaged more than 5,000 students with a civic-focused, for-credit, and course-based WIL experience during the pandemic. 

Acting as a channel for innovation and collaboration, CityStudio also plays an important role supporting post-secondary institutions and municipal governments in a crisis context. Globally, throughout the pandemic, municipalities needed support tackling pandemic recovery, climate emergency, and more. Simultaneously, PSIs needed strategies to keep students engaged via online learning. CityStudio is an example of an initiative supporting municipalities and PSIs, both, in a time of need by mobilizing and empowering post-secondary students.

CityStudio Sault Ste. Marie

CityStudio Sault Ste. Marie Logo

CityStudio Sault Ste. Marie is a collaborative program between the City of Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma University that brings together students, staff and faculty to co-create solutions for community challenges [source]. During its impressive first year, CityStudio Sault Ste. Marie engaged 187 students across six academic disciplines in courses, internships/placements, and applied research projects. It worked with eight faculty members and 10 city staff to support over 14 projects addressing social, cultural, environmental, and economic challenges. 

Reflecting on the first year, Taylor Jaehrling, CityStudio Sault Ste. Marie’s former Program Coordinator, says “it has been really amazing to see civic engagement from students, especially through a pandemic, and more than that, to see both domestic and international students interested in participating.”

As a more rural and remote municipality, Sault Ste. Marie has adapted the CityStudio framework to respond to its urgent needs. From how to build tourism during winter months,  providing food security for low-income, indigenous, and racialized families, to creating safe cultural spaces [source], CityStudio Sault Ste Marie is fostering civic innovation while affecting change in tangible ways. 

Person looking at the lightbox with a portrayal of Anishinaabe children by artist Shemia Nelson
Photo credit: Shemia Nelson

Arts, culture, tourism, and city revitalization have been key priorities for the City of Sault Ste. Marie. This is reflected in projects such as BI’MINOWAASEYAA – Downtown lightbox project, a two-semester project in which visual arts students proposed to make spaces in the city safer by installing light boxes with artwork. The students selected the digital portrayal of Anishinaabe children by artist Shemia Nelson. Through grants and other funding, six initial lightboxes will be displayed in the city. 

Cross-cultural learning between Indigenous and other communities is at the heart of the student learning experience at Algoma; outlined by its Special Mission [source], and demonstrated in CityStudio projects. When asked about how Algoma University has responded to CityStudio’s mission of making cities more equitable, joyful, and inclusive, Taylor shares, “the mission of the university is to support education and relations in northern Ontario, so innately, we learn a lot about Indigenous nations and the historical context of the area.” As a teaching-focused university with an emphasis on the North, CityStudio projects give undergraduate students a way to contribute to community growth and well-being in Northern Ontario as a part of their academic experience. 

CityStudio Durham

CityStudio Durham Logo

CityStudio Durham is a collaboration between the Region of Durham, Durham Regional Police Service, Durham College, Ontario Tech University, and Trent University Durham GTA [source]. In just two years of operations, CityStudio Durham has facilitated 53 collaborations involving 373 students across nine academic disciplines. While the three partner schools  are based in Oshawa, CityStudio Durham serves students living throughout the region, which consists of eight municipalities, both urban and rural.

Despite the challenge of launching in a pandemic, the experience has been a positive one for all stakeholders. For the PSIs, experiential learning is a key item in their strategic agendas. By providing students the opportunity to engage in civic problem-solving through their coursework, CityStudio Durham supports progress towards experiential learning goals. Additionally, faculty members and municipal staff have returned for subsequent collaborations, a key element to the program’s sustainability. 

Embraced by a variety of departments within Durham Region, project topics have been diverse. For example, one project researched the waste management sector and identified potential implications and provided recommendations that could enhance the region’s integrated waste management system [source]. Another project focused on utilizing data and knowledge mobilization to improve children’s development and readiness for school [source]. The Early Development Instrument Dashboard recently launched in the region [source] was employed by CityStudio Durham students to create resources and activities for both parents and educators. 

CityStudio Durham has also provided the Region with an avenue to formalize and expand on its post-secondary partnerships, granting the opportunity to experiment and innovate in a low-risk manner while collaborating with students and experts in the field. Daniel Sparks, coordinator for CityStudio Durham explains, “for the region, it has been beneficial to use an existing, formalized partnership model instead of creating a regional academic partnership from scratch. It has opened up the opportunity for [Region] staff to engage in the partnerships who would not have had the chance to otherwise.” 

CityStudio Durham is a testimony to the magic that takes place when youth are engaged in the process of city building and has positioned itself as a node in the region that fosters meaningful collaboration.

CityStudio Sault Ste. Marie and CityStudio Durham play a pivotal role in highlighting the importance of collaboration between post-secondary institutions and municipalities. The CityStudio projects are evidence of the impact and influence youth can impart in their communities and in the process of city-building. From prototyping to implementing project ideas, to creating pathways for collaboration across city departments, the CityStudio framework continues to demonstrate its effectiveness in helping municipalities and institutions innovate together while growing in new ways.

Interested in learning how to launch a CityStudio in your community? Drop us a note here – we’d love to hear from you! 

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