Designing healthier cities

Marc Johnson speaking in front of crowd at CUE symposium
Tuesday, December 5, 2017 - 12:14pm
Nicolle Wahl

In 2008, planet Earth passed a critical threshold. For the first time in our history, more than half of all human beings now live in urban areas, rather than in rural communities. And in Canada, more than 82 per cent of our population currently lives in cities, towns or villages.

Professor Marc Johnson, the director of the newly-launched Centre for Urban Environments (CUE), cited those facts in his introduction to the CUE Symposium: The Past, Present and Future of Our Urban Environment. The symposium was held Dec. 5 in the CCT building at U of T Mississauga, and brought together students, academics, leaders of local Indigenous organizations, urban planners, local conservation authorities and others.

Following a traditional welcome from UTM’s Aboriginal Elder-in-Residence, Cat Criger, Johnson welcomed the attendees and gave an overview of the vision behind CUE. He explained that the centre is being launched during a critical era: scientists propose that we are living in a new epoch called the “Anthropocene”, in which human activity is having a significant impact on the planet’s geology and ecosystems, including our climate.

According to Johnson, CUE hopes to provide global leadership in research, training, education and outreach on urban environmental issues. “We want to discover how to make cities healthier for the environment and for humans,” he says. “Cities create completely novel ecosystems, and urban environments affect human health and well-being.”

Among the various issues that CUE hopes to tackle are:

  • Resilience to environmental change
  • Conservation of endangered species
  • Preventing the effect of invasive species
  • Supporting the health and well-being of citizens
  • Ensuring access to urban green space
  • Educating and empowering the next generation

Johnson asked the members of CUE to stand up during the introduction, revealing a group including the Departments of Biology, Anthropology and Geography.

Other speakers at the symposium include: Chief Stacey Laforme, of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation; John MacKenzie, CEO of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority; U of T President Meric Gertler; and Mississauga mayor Bonnie Crombie.