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Faculty of Community Services

Climate change, civic hackathons and building bridges


Pamela Robinson, Urban and Regional Planning, Ryerson

Building healthy, safe, sustainable communities should involve governments at all levels. “In Canada, the federal government doesn’t talk to cities,” says Pamela Robinson, a professor in the School of Urban and Regional Planning. Much of her research explores the roles of city governments and civic engagement in city building.

For approximately 15 years, Robinson, along with Christopher Gore, a professor of politics and public administration at Ryerson, conducted research on cities’ responses to climate change. One of her research papers, based on a survey of municipal governments in Canada, revealed that a lot is being done to fight climate change but that cities are not reporting the activities and processes until they achieve certain milestones. “The paper argues that these ‘in-between activities’ – the not-yet-counted climate actions that take place between and outside of milestone initiation and completion – have practical importance for future climate action,” she and Gore wrote in the paper. Cities are the only level of government where substantial climate-change work is being done, they argue. “In the face of failed leadership at federal and provincial levels, cities have led the way,” Robinson adds.

Her most recent research work, however, looks at the potential of Web 2.0 tools to engage citizens in city building. “There’s been a movement in the past five years for governments to open their data to the public,” she explains. “Local governments are inviting hackers, technology developers and urbanists to create mobile-device apps that use city data.” Robinson’s research looks at such hackathons. “Civic hackathons and open data are interesting because they’re the next frontiers in terms of relationships between citizens and city governments,” she says. “When Toronto talks about city building, it can find different ways of collaborating that are ethical, efficient and democratic.” And, as with so many other professors in the Faculty of Community Services, Robinson’s work builds bridges to groups and communities outside of Ryerson.