Guest Blog: Environment and Urban Sustainability Case Competition

Arleigh Hack is a 4th-year Environment and Urban Sustainability student. In this blog she shares her experience participating in the very first York Region Case Competition. 

This March I had the incredible opportunity to participate in the very first York Region Case Competition.  Our team included myself, two other 4th year Environment and Urban Sustainability (EUS) students, Anne Sheridan and Stephanie Stanov, and Katryna Vergis-Mayo, a graduate student in the Master of Spatial Analysis program all hosted in Ryerson’s Department of Geography and Environmental Studies.  For guidance, Professors Andrew Millward and Sarah Edge, and EUS program administrator, Tonisha Boyd, were important contributors.  The topic for the competition was how to get York Region to net-zero green house gas emissions by 2051, and we were given about one week to work on our cases until competition day, March 1st, 2016.

The process of putting together our case was a challenge, as it was extremely difficult to coordinate times for the whole team to meet when we all had our own busy schedules.  It took a few meetings with the guidance team to really hone in on our idea and finally pull our presentation together.  Luckily, our presenting team really pulled through.

Our idea was to propose a radical change to York Region’s transportation system using a phased approach for implementation.  Major elements in our proposal included: the densification of suburban and urban areas, the conversion of the current VIVA bus routes to light rail transit, and the novel idea to incorporate human-powered energy generation to feed into the energy grid.  Collectively these proposed strategies would help support the growing reliance on electricity and facilitate weaning off non-renewable energy sources such as natural gas and oil.  An additional emphasis was placed on behavioural change in all York Region citizens.  We followed the competition instructions to a tee and we all felt very confident, as our proposal was entirely our own creation and very innovative.

Upon arriving on competition day, our hearts sank as we realized that all other teams were comprised solely of graduate students.  Suddenly we felt our crazy idea would sound silly and naïve coming from a predominantly undergraduate team.

Incredibly, although well-deserved, our team won the first round of presentations and advanced to the final round, beating out graduate teams.  We then competed against the University of Western Ontario where we ultimately came in second, which was disappointing for us all, having made it so far.

The reason we were disappointed was primarily that we were the only team in the final round to uphold the emphasis on creativity and innovative thinking, which was a central theme and criteria for this competition.  We believed that the result may reflect a reluctance of decision makers to embrace out-of-the-box thinking and innovative ideas.  Regardless of the result, I do not think any of us would have changed our presentation at all, as that was what got us to the final round in the first place, and that in itself was a huge accomplishment for each of us individually, as a team, and for Ryerson’s new EUS program.

Participating in the York Region Case Competition was a worthwhile experience.  It was challenging and at times stressful, particularly given the tight timeframe, but often under these circumstances you discover the skills you have and develop new ones.  I think I benefited through the practical application of teamwork, leadership, and presentation skills as well as research and proposal development.  It was a great opportunity to apply my interdisciplinary education in EUS to a real world problem, and the process has given me confidence in my ideas and skills.  I would like to extend a special thanks to our guidance team who were extremely helpful in narrowing our focus and organizing our idea.

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