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When nature meets the urban jungle

Ryerson students explore the relationship between city and nature at Ecological Urbanism exhibition
By: Will Sloan
May 02, 2017
From left: Vincent Racine and Nina-Marie Lister

Photo: Vincent Racine (graduate student at the School of Urban and Regional Planning and exhibition curator) and Nina-Marie Lister (program director) at the launch of Ecological Urbanism at the Urbanspace Gallery. Photo by Dominic Ali.

Can nature thrive (or even survive) in an urban jungle? Can ecology and architecture be successfully integrated? Ryerson students are taking a critical and creative look at nature and infrastructure with Ecological Urbanism, a new exhibit at Urbanspace Gallery, external link.

The exhibition showcases innovative ecological design research by urban planning and landscape architecture students, envisioning a more sustainable future for Toronto. An interdisciplinary melding of research and design, the exhibition is a collaboration between the Ryerson City Building Institute, the Ecological Design Lab, external link, the Ryerson School of Urban and Regional Planning, and the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design.

“We’ve been fragmenting ecology for so long with our roads, with our buildings,” said Vincent Racine, graduate student in the School of Urban and Regional Planning, and curator of the exhibition. “We have put ourselves in the way of ecology in a number of ways, and the lifestyles of the raccoons and squirrels around us are a consequence of our lifestyle.

“Ecological Urbanism is this conflict between the ecology and the urban world. How can we stitch together this dichotomy? … We didn’t want our students to imagine what was feasible. We wanted our students to provoke ideas. And that’s what you’ll see: ideas that provoke thinking and reflection upon how we got to be such a fragmented city.”

The work aims to challenge our perception of how nature fits in the city. Exhibits include a Jane’s Walk through the unseen pockets of nature in Toronto; a design for aesthetically pleasing, portable wetlands; and a moss-based alternative to street trees (which seldom have the space to develop deep, healthy roots).

The exhibits emphasize Toronto’s ravine system—the mostly undeveloped parklands that account for 17 per cent of the GTA’s surface, and most of its biodiversity. “We have immense growth, so we know for a fact that there’s going to be a lot of pressure on our ravine system,” said Racine. “We know we’re going to be lacking green spaces. … There is a need for more landscape connectivity.”

Racine hopes the exhibition will inspire thought about how governments and developers approach the land. “My main takeaway is that there needs to be a rethinking of how we’ve been approaching urbanization, policymaking, and even architecture. I think there’s an idea that ecology is placed second. We need to rethink that process, and bring back ecology as a lens that must be taken for all the projects. When you’re looking at the streetscape, when the City of Toronto is developing, you need to be looking at the ecology. Is the building helping or hurting the local ecology?”

Ecological Urbanism runs at the Urbanspace Gallery (401 Richmond St. W.) until May 14.

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