A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the 1UP 2020 Conference

Wendy Wang
Mar 28 · 7 min read
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1UP 2020 Conference: Future Focus

On March 7, 2020, 1UP Toronto hosted the fourth annual Youth City Builder’s Conference. Over 60 high school students from across the Greater Toronto Area attended the conference to learn about city building and to put their design skills to the test. Themed “Future Focus” the conference zeroed in on the importance of transforming aging and out-of-date infrastructure into structures that are sustainable, long-lived, and adaptable for use in the future. We partnered with Gladki Planning Associates and the City of Toronto to create a design jam for our students in which they redesigned a portion of Scarborough Centre to become a more urban, pedestrian-friendly, and unique space.

To kick off the day, our guest speakers Shirin Karoubi, Ken Greenberg, and Yvonne Yeung came to speak about the importance of sustainable infrastructure and adapting our short-term needs for the long-term future of our cities. Then we headed into our design jam where our participants got to show off their creativity and design through the ideas and solutions they generated for the revitalization of Scarborough Centre. Our 1UP Fellows also came to represent their 1UP Chapters and presented their year-long community design-build projects to our conference participants during the 1UP Fair.

Max Lei | 1UP Toronto Director of Design

Over the past several months, the 2020 1UP Toronto Conference was put together by the 1UP youth executive team, professionals from Urban Minds, and students from Ryerson’s RUaPlanner. As a 1UP executive, I worked with my team to gather ideas from our perspective as youth to give insight into the design and creation of the conference so that it would better fit students like us in Ontario and help them experience what city planning and urban design are truly like.

This year’s conference is my second time participating in this event. The first time was in 2019 when I attended just as a participant who was interested in exploring architecture. The conference introduced the concept of urban planning and architecture in an approachable and engaging way and ultimately motivated me to pursue a career in architecture. Not only that, but the conference also helped me realize how few youth organizations related to city planning exist, so I decided to join 1UP’s exec team to help bring 1UP and its opportunities to schools and students all over Toronto.

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A group working on rapid brainstorming to generate as many ideas as possible for their design solution.

But moving from being a participant to being an executive and a host for the conference, the pressure to improve from last year’s conference was on. Using our available resources, we pushed our advertising and promotional material in order to reach a wider range of students and replanned the format of the conference in order to receive a better response from the students. On the day of the conference, though we had some setbacks here and there, I was happy we were able to pull through with a polished result. And while I am in charge of design for 1UP, I was also an MC for the conference which definitely ramped up the pressure; I had to make sure people were getting the help they needed and that I represented 1UP in a positive manner. At the end of the day, my team and I were exhausted, but seeing the participants smiling and enjoying the conference we had planned for so long brought out such a nostalgic feeling for me. Listening to all the students engaged in a topic they were all interested in and coming up with ideas, questions, and feedback reminded me of being a participant during last year’s conference when I had been in their place, learning about how interesting and rewarding city planning really could be.

Today I look back on both the 2019 and 2020 conference and I can really see how they’ve helped change and improve as a person. I’ve realized that the hours of work our team put into the conference were never in vain as they were effective in making a difference in the lives and futures of our eager students just like it had to me. And that’s exactly what 1UP is about.

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A group visualizing their designs by building a final prototype out of craft supplies.

Joshua Ye | 1UP Toronto Director of Technology

As part of the 1UP Toronto executive team, I dedicated a lot of time with my fellow executives to organize the conference. Throughout the conference, I filmed important moments, such as the keynote speakers and the design jam pitches. Through filming the day I was able to closely watch how our event ran and how our participants engaged; it was really gratifying to see how our hard work paid off through the eagerness and excitement the students had to learn and design.

I especially enjoyed the design jam as it was an opportunity for our participants to express their creativity and ideas through designing solutions to a real-world problem. I was fascinated to see all students working hard even under all the pressure, they had to develop the best design for the Scarborough Centre area.

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A team pitching their solution and prototype to the design jam.

They brainstormed hundreds of ideas, ultimately settling on just a few to prototype and bring them to life using various craft materials. I found their ideas overall to be incredibly impressive because not only were they innovative and creative, but I could actually see them being implemented into the city.

In addition to filming the day, I was also in charge of selecting the social media prize winner for the conference. When reviewing people’s social media posts tagged with #1UPToronto and #FutureFocus, I was surprised to see the amount of buzz they had created with over 30 posts. The interest and popularity surrounding 1UP and the conference helped introduce many people to 1UP Toronto and further our reach and ability to spread our mission to educate and encourage youth to be changemakers and city builders.

At the 2020 1UP Toronto Conference, I learned about the power of youth gatherings. From the design jam to the social media hype, the conference produced inspiring results and has convinced me that when passionate students come together, they can easily make a real-world impact.

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Kelly Dynes from the City of Toronto presenting the design jam about the Scarborough Centre revitalization.

Wendy Wang | 1UP Toronto President

As my third 1UP conference and my final event with 1UP Toronto, I’m glad the 1UP 2020 conference was one to remember (at least for me!). Despite all the mishaps, hiccups, and the running lates, the fact that we were even able to run the conference amidst the onset of COVID-19 event cancellations makes me incredibly grateful. As a high school senior, it’s painful to see all my senior events being cancelled, but it’s even worse to realize that the hours of work that go on behind the scenes and the positive impact these events have is being erased. And I’m so glad that I was lucky enough to see the long and late hours and heart and soul my team and I poured into planning this conference pay off.

Having previously attended two conferences, once as a participant and another as a 1UP executive, I had plenty of experience to work with and I wanted to put it to good use. We reviewed all the pros and cons, little details, and feedback from past conferences and pumped out a plan for what we hoped would be the best 1UP conference thus far.

During the conference, I was also an MC with Max which meant I was on stage at all times, setting the mood and guiding our participants through the day. And though the job was tiring, it was wholly worth the front row seat I got to see our participants engage in the hard work we had put into planning the conference, whether it was their eyes widening at newfound knowledge or hearing them laugh and converse over seemingly wild and unreal ideas.

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A group beginning their prototyping process with group discussion and external feedback.

It’s this absurd creativity and application of new knowledge that makes stuff fun for youth like me and it’s also what helps us inject novelty and imagination into the city-building world. And at the end of the day, this is what makes the conference fun and enjoyable for all our participants, not just those who win.

And at the actual end of the day, when one of our participants approached me to thank my team and myself for our work and to tell us how much fun she had that day, I knew it was safe to say our conference had been a success. Positive impact like that starts small but spreads fast and it’s been amazing helping and seeing 1UP be a part of that.

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Group photo! Over 60+ students all over the GTA attended the conference organized by the people from 1UP Toronto, Urban Minds, and RUaPlanner.

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